It is a great honor and privilege to interview Dominica Malcolm today!! I can’t wait to share what we talked about!
Tell us about yourself.
Bio: Dominica Malcolm is the author of Adrift, a speculative fiction novel that follows pirate Jaclyn Rousseau in the 17th and 21st centuries. As with her novel, her writing tends towards pirates and/or mermaids, though she also writes dystopias. She’s been published in 4 anthologies, with a couple more on the way: Fae Fatales: A Fantasy Noir Anthology by Solarwyrm Press, Idol Meanderings, Horrors of History and Happily Never After (coming soon) by Fey Publishing, and an indie anthology Harvest Moon. She’s also in the process of releasing an anthology she edited herself, Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction.
Though born in Western Australia, Dominica holds citizenship in both Australia and the USA, and currently lives in Malaysia with her husband and two children. She travels a lot, having been to over 30 countries in 6 continents around the world, which inspires some of her writing. She has a Bachelor of Science in Internet Computing, and a Graduate Diploma in Media Production. Checking out her web site (http://dominica.malcolm.id.au) will lead you to music videos and short films she’s worked on, as well as sample stand-up comedy, artwork, and writing.
Seems like you get around and do a lot! But what is one thing not in your bio, something totally random that only a few people know?
When I got married in Australia, the furthest someone travelled to attend my wedding was basically the other end of the globe – from Toronto, Canada, to Perth, Australia. I also had three friends fly from the other side of the country to see me get married.
Wow!! Onto writing. =P What made you decide to write? If it even was a decision. And what kept you at it?
I think most writers seem to have a story about how they used to write stories from a young age, don’t they? I’m no different than that, though my creativity didn’t stop with story writing. In primary school, I wrote plays and performed them with other kids, took classes in modelling and then taught catwalk modelling to other kids, and even choreographed my own dance for “Just Around the Riverbend” from Disney’s Pocahontas.
So my point is that I don’t just focus on writing, though when I do write, it’s generally what I’m focused to work on at any given time. In the last decade that’s been anything from screenplays and a one-act play, to stand-up comedy, to blogging, creative non-fiction, and finally fiction. I write because I have something to say. These days what I want to say tends to be that storytelling is just as good with a diverse cast of characters, and so I focus on character-driven stories with that in mind. You’ll usually find racially and/or sexuality diverse characters in my stories because those are the types of people I’m most exposed to in my own life. Even when I blog, one of the topics I bring up a lot is diversity in the media.
Who has been your biggest inspiration and support in writing and in publishing? Doesn’t have to be an author or anything, and yes, it can be your mom or dad.
I don’t know that I could pick just one person who has been the “biggest” inspiration and support, because it changed over time. I’d say the person who was my inspiration to really make the switch to speculative fiction was a friend who writes under the name Joey Michaels. I wanted to be able to write like he does, and then asked myself, “Well, what’s stopping me?” But then when it came to writing my novel, the support I got came mostly from my editor, Jeremiah Murphy, and my husband. They were always the first two people to read my chapters and give me feedback, and then my husband helped me with the practical side of publishing, whilst Jeremiah fixed up all the nitty gritty punctuation, grammar, and typo kinds of errors in my manuscript.
Why is it that you are an independent author? What prompted the decision to publish with a small press publisher, and how has that experience been?
I’ve often had an attitude of “do it myself as much as possible” because I’ve found it hard to find people who I can rely on to get things done when I want them to. I think this in turn fostered an attitude for me to have a clear vision about what I want to achieve, and whilst I can take feedback from people and adapt if something isn’t working for my early readers, I’m not really comfortable feeling like I’m forced to do something that might disrupt what I was trying to achieve.
I’ve enjoyed the experience so far. I might not be anywhere near as widely-read as a traditionally published author, but I am being read and people—strangers included—generally seem to be enjoying what I’m putting out there. I’ve also enjoyed connecting with people, and finding other indie authors whose writing I can enjoy too.
Tell us a bit about editing anthologies and what it’s like to get them together and the talent you find.
Well, Amok is the only anthology I’ve worked on as an editor so far, but I can say it’s been a very rewarding experience for me, finding writers from all over the world who are writing the sorts of stories I like to read. Reading all the submissions was the easy part. There were a lot of great stories to choose from, but when it comes down to the selection process, some stories just fit my vision better than others. I think that was the most important thing for me, and it was good that I knew what I wanted to accomplish in this collection.
My personal vision was one of great diversity. How that came about is because I’ve been blogging for a while about wanting to see more diverse characters in the media I consume, and I thought what I really needed to do was be a part of that change and provide access to the types of stories that represented what I felt was lacking. Focusing on the Asia-Pacific region helped but was not in and of itself responsible for diversity. Probably my most common reason for rejecting something was because the story focused on a white male protagonist. Now, I’m not saying I rejected all of those stories, because there were some that were too compelling to reject, and/or still included some diversity, but I couldn’t choose too many of them when I also wanted to provide a portal to other cultures that are less represented.
Some of the stories I selected have a good range of diversity. For example, one of the reasons I enjoyed “Bright Student” by Terence Toh was because he showed the interracial friendships and relationships that occur in Malaysia. It’s not the only reason I chose it, of course, but it was an influencing factor. Some of the other stories don’t have as much racial diversity, but that didn’t matter, as long as the collection as a whole did. That also meant that competition between stories set in some countries like Australia and Malaysia, which had the highest number of submissions, was higher than others. But the quality of those stories were also very good, so they also have the most stories in the anthology.
In the end I was able to include most of the settings that I received, with a total of 15 (Australia, China, Hawaii, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Pacific Ocean, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam). I was, however, a little disappointed in the lack of submissions with LGBT characters. And one I had received (and accepted) that filled that role, I hadn’t even realised did at the time of acceptance. That was the major reason I wrote something myself to include in the collection, because I wanted a little more LGBT representation.
If you could meet one character in real life from you novel Adrift—and yes, I know this is a hard question—who would it be and why?
Haha, actually this is pretty easy, I think. I’d pick Turtle, my African character, who just seems to have turned out to be a great person, despite his harsh background – a former slave turned pirate. He taught my protagonist a lot, and I think if I met him in real life, he’d teach me a lot more about the realities of life for him in ways non-fiction books wouldn’t be able to achieve. That’d be great to know if I ever get around to writing a sequel!
What do you do when you get stuck in your writing? What happens when that nasty writer’s block sets down and refuses to budge—if you believe in writer’s block that is?
I don’t know that I believe in writer’s block as such, because there were times when I was working on Adrift where I just wasn’t feeling it but would force myself to sit down and get it done. The thing that has actually been debilitating for my writing the past few months has been depression and anxiety, but now that I seem to have gotten that under control, I’ve actually been able to finish my first short story in a long time (the one for Amok). So I guess what I do when I am blocked like that is deal with my mental and emotional health in whatever way is needed for the situation. Sometimes that means spending time with friends, or watching a movie, or focusing on another of my creative pursuits.
What is your editing process? Editing seems to be the bane of a lot of author’s existence, so how do you edit and stay on track?
I generally can’t edit my work without feedback from other people, because I’m too close to the story to see where it’s lacking. I’ve been very lucky to have a number of people available and willing to provide that for me, because in the end it means I have a better story for people to read.
Another thing that has helped is setting self-imposed deadlines. That was the only way I managed to get back to editing my novel for the final time. I’d set it aside for months, despite having had a heap of feedback to delve into. Part of it was a crippling fear that I wouldn’t like the story any more once I re-read it, because of some of the harsher comments. But in the end I wanted to release it before I turned 30, so I looked at my plans for the rest of the year and figured out when would be the best time for me to release it (International Talk Like a Pirate Day, of course!) and worked backwards from there, knowing I also needed to factor in my editor going over everything with a fine-toothed comb himself.
I also tend to edit as I write. I know a lot of people say don’t do that because you’ll never finish the story if you’re always editing it, but I’d rather finish something as close to done as I can. Usually when I’d finish a chapter of my novel, I’d send it off for feedback, and edit before moving on to the next chapter.
A follow up question, what’s the difference between editing your own work and editing other author’s works? How is the process different?
I can usually be more impartial when it comes to someone else’s story, but providing feedback to people, you still have to be sensitive to how they might respond, and what works best in order to get them to listen to you. When it came to the stories in Amok, I didn’t do much more than copy-editing, because I didn’t have the time to give advice or offer suggestions, and so I chose stories that worked well as they were when they were submitted. There was only one story that was edited after I asked if the author wanted to clarify something better for readers, but I didn’t have a problem with it being vague if that was what had been intended.
Would you mind sharing some of your ups and some of your downs about writing and about publishing? Any advice to new and upcoming authors?
Hmm… well, of course, seeing my novel in my hands for the first time was a huge high! The realisation that it was done, and the cover turned out well, and the typesetting looked good. Actually a lot of people complimented me for my typesetting job in that book, and maybe that seems like such a small thing, but it made me feel really good because I’d spent so much time trying to get it just right and easy on the eyes. What it said was “This looks professional.” And considering I’ve seen people bemoan a certain subset of self-published authors who don’t bother to make their books look professional, it meant a lot to me that people didn’t put me in that category.
I guess the downs have come mainly from me not being a great marketer, and maybe having higher expectations than I should have had with how many people I sent review copies to who never followed through to write a review. I have no idea if they even read the book, and I’m not very good at following up with people with that sort of thing. Part of that is just because I haven’t been the most reliable reviewer of other indie authors myself, and so I feel like there’s some level of understanding that they’re probably just busy with other things.
I feel like the best response I got in terms of marketing was through the Goodreads giveaway program. I’ve seen some authors bemoan this, saying that the winners just sell the books instead of reading and reviewing them, so maybe I got lucky, but I gave away 3 books and got 3 reviews out of it. I don’t even mind the two-star one because that just shows my book isn’t for everyone. It also seemed to generate a heck of a lot of to-read labels. I don’t know what effect that has had on other readers, but it at least makes it look like there’s a lot of interest. My other piece of Goodreads-related advice is to make sure you put them on appropriate lists. Having Adrift on lists for things like female pirates and lesbian pirates was definitely responsible for some of my readership, and since they’re short lists, they’re fairly easy for people to go through and find what they’re interested in. I’m doubtful that lists with more books would make yours easier to find because they’d be too overwhelming.
Here’s a more serious question. What is it like to write in the LGBT realm of craziness that we all support? What’s it like to dip the toe into the rainbow through writing and publishing?
I’m not sure dipping my toe in is the best way to describe how I include LGBT characters, since they’re generally my protagonists! I think all of the fiction I’ve written in the last couple of years has included at least one LGBT character, but I don’t see myself as a writer of LGBT fiction, and my reason for that is because I don’t think LGBT fiction should be separated from mainstream fiction. I think that alienates a subset of the audience who might enjoy the work. It’s like the label limits the audience to readers who identify as LGBT themselves, because they’re the ones who are going to be more likely to go out there and search for fiction that fits that description. But I’d rather open up my writing to be exposed to people of any background, and especially those who aren’t LGBT, so those characters can be seen as just as normal as any straight character.
But, first and foremost, I write for myself, and not seeing such characters represented often in the media I consumed growing up and beyond is, I feel, one of the reasons I found it so hard to come out as bisexual myself, as well as accepting that I was. I’d honestly only seen myself as straight because I thought that was the only option on the table. This was despite an obvious attraction to other girls before I understood what that was.
What is your best memory from the whole writing and publishing process?
I don’t know if this is necessarily the “best,” but it was certainly memorable. I spend a lot of my social life with the local comedians in Malaysia because the stand-up scene here is fairly small and easy to get into. Even when I hadn’t been performing for a few years (I didn’t perform at all between March 2010 and September last year), I’d go watch some shows and hang out with them. Since I wasn’t performing, everyone basically knew me as a writer, and seemed excited about my book being in print. Then, after one show, which was headlined by a visiting Singaporean comedian, just before the official release of my book, I happened to have a copy on me. I think someone must have mentioned the book to the Singaporean, or maybe she randomly asked me what I do and I brought it up, but after only a couple sentences exchanged between us, she bought it from me. That was a big week of feeling elated, and the confidence I felt from how I was selling copies definitely contributed to my being able to get back up on stage doing stand-up comedy again the following week—the actual week my book was released.
1. Dog or Cat? Cat
2. Favorite color? purple
3. Favorite junk food? Mint Slice biscuits (they’re Australian)
4. Favorite musician? I don’t really have a favourite, but I’ll give a shout out to Malaysian composer Onn San. His Epomania album is amazing and everyone should check it out.
5. Favorite curse word? Is douchebag considered a curse word? It’s one of my favourite insults to use against men who annoy me, though I don’t think I ever say it to anyone’s face!
6. Favorite quote? I don’t think I have one!
7. Rolaids or Tums? I have no idea what they are.
8. Short or Tall? Short
9. Favorite body part? Hair
10. Favorite holiday? Maybe Lunar New Year (it’s a holiday where I live!)
It’s the 21st century, and Jaclyn Rousseau is not where she should be. 1661 disappeared before her eyes, and there’s no way home. That matters not to Jaclyn—she lost her lover, and everything else that meant anything to her, in the West Indies.
In an adventure that crosses time and the Atlantic, a murderous pirate must find a place for herself in this new world.
Can she escape her past, or will it catch up with her?
All of my buy links for Adrift can be found here: http://dominica.malcolm.id.au/writing/adrift/
Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction is not yet available but I’ll be selling pre-orders through crowdfunding site Indiegogo soon.