This week, I’m “touching base” with Emma Ennis. She followed a rolling top hat into the tank. For the moment, she’s dodging all the ideas I try to bounce off of her. LOOK OUT!
Why writing? What drew you to it? Why do you continue?
I don’t know if there was any one specific moment that drew me to it. I’ve always loved to write and always loved to read. When I was younger, I really enjoyed writing essays in school. While all my classmates moaned at the announcement of essay assignments, I was secretly air-punching with joy. For me, there’s nothing nicer than a clean page, a nice pen, and to let the imagination loose on them.
I remember one moment clearly though, when my teacher returned one of my essays and had written at the end, something along the lines of – ‘I really liked this one Emma. Perhaps a future as a romance novelist?’ And from that moment, the seed was sown. I think it was that point that made me think it would actually be possible, and from there on, there was no other career for me.
Of course I pursued this and that, even did a four year stint in college because, you know, I figured my parents had too much money and felt it was my duty to relieve them of some of it. But, at the back of it all – most times dormant, sometimes a nagging, persistent, relentless blot on my subconscious – to write was always the dream.
Why do I continue? Quite simply, because I love it. I’ve so many ideas, and I can’t wait to get around to getting them all out. I could be tonsils deep in a project, and I will think of a future project I have in mind and get so excited (impatient) I’m seconds from dropping everything and moving on to it. I’m lucky I have a good store of will power and discipline… ahem.
If you were freezing to death and the only thing left to burn were the books in your library, what 5 books would you burn last? (And yes, everything else burnable has been burnt.)
The horror! The torment! Personally I’d rather throw myself on the fire to keep warm, so this is the question from hell for me, but here goes:
- Bram Stoker’s Dracula,
- Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte,
- To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee,
- My Oscar Wilde collection,
- My Poe collection.
Now leave me be a moment while I wallow in the misery of burnt Harry Potters, Conan Doyles, Lemony Snickets, Hemmingways, and Steinbecks.
What’s the most challenging thing you’ve done (in life or in writing (your choice))?
I wouldn’t say writing is challenging – though it’s hard work and a constant stress to get the time and to force oneself to stop procrastinating in order to do it. At the end of the day, I love it. So I think this question will require a little digging and bearing of my soul. Brace yourself; sad verse a-coming.
In the summer of 2008, my mam was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. We’d known for a while that something wasn’t right – she would forget things, lose things, sometimes lose words in the middle of a sentence. Obviously, as it is a degenerative disease, things got progressively worse. We wanted to keep her at home with us as long as we could, so that meant there were some tough jobs ahead, such as dressing, changing, and bathing her.
It’s not easy when roles reverse, and the child must become the parent and protector. Who do you turn to when the one person you need a hug from is the very one who has you needing a hug in the first place? And I always regret that I didn’t have more patience with her.
In a lot of Alzheimer’s cases, the sufferer gets somewhat paranoid, and the first people they turn on are those closest them. This made bathing times hell, as she was convinced I was trying to kill her, so eventually I had to give over the task to a family friend. It was a bitter pill to swallow to admit that I wasn’t able to care for her, and I couldn’t help but feel that I’d failed her.
Naturally though, being the trooper that I am, I’ve turned the experience into a story which will later become a novel. And if I don’t go insane in the writing of that, I never will. The pressure to honour her with my best work scares me even now, as this should be the one area in which I really can’t fail her.
What’s one word or phrase that drives you nuts? Why?
There are so, so many, but the ones that really grind my gears are the cringe-worthy overly cliched ones like ‘just want to bounce some ideas off you,’ ‘use you as a sounding board,’ ‘touch base.’ I don’t know why these bug me so much, but me and my friends use them ALL the time to take the complete piss and utterly annoy one another. Ergo, if I hear someone say them in a serious context, I’m usually torn between pointing and laughing, or slapping them with my glove.
The phrase that scares the bejesus out of me? ‘By Jaysus I tell you one thing…’ This is guaranteed to strike the fear of God in the hearts of each and any Irish youngling and send them scampering for their lives, or at least for the lives of the backs of their knees. In my house, if you really had your wits about you on the sprint, you’d grab the slice of bamboo as you were going too. I don’t think the mother ever actually used it on us, but the fear while you cowered in the corner, hopping from one foot to the other as you tried to protect knees and arse at the same time, was enough. I guess I should be thankful, as this is probably one of the main reasons why I’m so spry and limber today.
Do you have a favorite character you’ve created? If so, who is it and why?
I gave birth to them all, and I love them equally… but one of my favourites would be the main character in a short called ‘Pest Control’ which I’ve written for my second collection. I experimented a little with this character and broke all the rules of writing. The guy is an absolute prick, and instead of struggling to get the reader to sympathise with him, I set out to make them hate him right down to the core of their being. He beats his girlfriend, sells drugs to kids; he has a foul mouth and an even fouler temper. The whole thing is very dark and acidic to the last line. I hope it worked.
On the other side of the scale is a character who is all goodness and light. Her name is Lillian, and she appears in the novel I finished last year that should-never-have-been-a-novel-and-is-now-earmarked-to-be-a-trilogy. It’s set in the late 1800’s, so you can imagine she’s quite innocent yet has none of the naiveté of her younger sister. The story starts with a phone call from her younger sister, asking her to come visit because she is getting married. Lillian and her mother make the long journey, but it doesn’t take them where they expected nor to meet the fiancé they expected.
So Lillian is thrown into a supernatural dystopia of horror, illusion, and torment to the extent that she begins to question her own sanity. But through all the trials, she struggles to hold onto her soul, her goodness, even though it mean making some heinous decisions. Lily’s our gal.
Creepiest place you’ve ever been? Has it appeared in your fiction? Why or Why not?
Hmmmmm. I know there should be many, but only one comes to mind at the minute. About twenty minutes from where I live in Norway, there’s this abandoned railroad tunnel. When you enter it, you know it’s going to get dark, but you’ve no idea just how dark it can be. It truly is a fact that you don’t know darkness until you’ve experienced the darkness underground.
And when the light at the other end does eventually appear, it’s a deceiving little bugger. You think it’s just up ahead, and the heart starts to brighten, but you walk and walk and walk… and then you look behind you and you see nothing, and you’re aware there could be anything hiding in those folds of darkness, sneaking up on you, and then you start to run and… it wasn’t really that dramatic, but you get the idea.
But that’s not the creepiest part of it – about halfway along, the tunnel splits, and through the broken boards and crumbling stones you see a tunnel that leads out onto the side of the mountain. And on a ledge there is a ripped out car-seat and a makeshift table of a wooden crate. There are signs of life – litter, papers, cigarette butts. There’s no other way to get to this little alcove, as the sides of the mountain are too steep to climb or hike. Who would come all that way through an abandoned tunnel to sit there, in the middle of nowhere? And why?
It hasn’t appeared in any of my stories, but now I’ve given myself the creeps and just might have to work it into a future something.
What’s the best rejection you’ve ever received?
The one that wasn’t actually a rejection! This would simultaneously constitute my best rejection and my best acceptance, and it was for my first real book, Red Wine and Words. I was looking for a press outside of the ones I’d been using all the time for various reasons, and a friend put me in touch with one called Post Mortem Press based in Cincinnati.
So I got her ready, and with shaking forefinger, clicked the send button. I had been in contact with the owner, Eric Beebe, prior to sending, but that didn’t make it any less nerve-racking; anyone who knows me knows that I have oodles of self-doubt. Anyway, there was nothing I could do but wait, and wait I did, with great impatience, until I got the reply.
If I’d thought my fingers were shaking sending it, it was nothing to the way they were when opening that reply. Many authors will identify with what happened next – I scanned down through it, and reached the end with not one clue of what it had said. On second perusal my heart dropped a little. The publisher was expressing some concerns regarding international shipping and constraints and so on, but was prepared to offer me an ebook only deal.
And so I was faced with a personal dilemma. Here I was, accepted, but not. I’ve mentioned that I love reading, but not only that – I love physical books. Hardback, paperback, doesn’t matter. The look and feel of a book, the smell of the pages and how they crinkle in my hands. The lines of spines on a bookshelf – it all gives me butterflies in my stomach. Could I agree to a deal that meant I never got to experience my book in this way?
I don’t own an ereader and hope to get through life without ever owning one. The majority of my friends and family don’t own one either, so chances are they would share in my excitement but never get to see my book. My Dad, who would be proud of me, would never hold the fruits of my labours in his hands. My Mam, nutty as she is, bless her, would never see me waving it in front of her face in the hopes of some recognition.
So it was that with even shakier fingers, I replied that I couldn’t accept the deal. I consigned myself to the bed for the rest of the day, cycling though alternating phases of knowing I was right and internally flagellating myself for being so anal.
Now to the happy ending. The publisher replied to my mail, saying that he was impressed by my decision and (because I had mentioned them) the marketing ideas I had detailed in my mail, because with so many authors, trying to get them to take a hand in marketing their own work is like trying to get blood from a stone. As a result, he decided to take a chance on me. Now that was a feeling I don’t have the space to describe here, but you won’t regret it mister, I pwomise.
How did you get that scar?
To coin a phrase my dearest Pops often used when we were youngsters – I tripped over a trumpet and fell into a matchbox.
I have two scars I like to talk about it. Well, one is a small collection of scars, and that has a cute story. The other has a rather hilarious one, though I suspect one may have had to have been there at the time to find it as hilarious as me and my sister do.
Get on with it, I hear you expostulate. Okay, the cluster. When I was knee high to a grasshopper (no, not last week), I was sent to fetch aforementioned Pops for the dinner from the field next to our house where he was sowing the spuds. As I guess is the case with most halflings, I was at the stage when everything I did had to be done in turbo mode. So I was going as fast as I could on the little legs I was graced with, tripped, fell, and managed to find the one area of the field where there was broken glass stuck in the dirt. As a result I have three or four little half moon scars on my chest, hands and chin. All together now – awwwwwwww!
Moving swiftly along. I’ve always been fond of make-and-do, because nothing you can buy is ever as perfect as the image you have in your head. So there I was one evening, hacking some glue off a plastic box with an open scissors, when the glue gave way, scissors slipped and implanted in my palm. Instantly I knew it wasn’t just a little nick, nor was it my inherent melodrama bursting forth. So I hunkered over the bin and very calmly informed my sister, who was lounging on the bed reading a book, that I was in a bit of trouble and needed help.
Perhaps calmly informing wasn’t the best way to go about it, as said sister dearest insisted on reading to the next fullstop before mincing across the room to my aid. I described what had happened and expressed my concerns that I needed more professional help than she could offer. “Show me,” says she, sneering at me and well aware of said inherent melodrama that was mine, all mine.
Now, at this point I was barely containing the geyser that was spurting in time with my pulse with my uninjured hand. Said I, in increasingly shrill reply, “I can’t let go. I can feel it gushing.”
“Just let me look,” she insisted, a hateful, dubious set to her countenance. So I, thinking she’s older and should know better, gave her what she asked for. As feared, the fountain of blood pumped up, culminating just inches from her steadily paling face. Then, with all the composure of a nun in a vibrator factory, she said, “I think you need help.”
Clearly, since the black spots were beginning to dance before my eyes, it wasn’t the time for I-told-you-so’s, particularly since I wasn’t long out of the shower and was in my jammies, sans underwear. As you can imagine, one can’t change ones clothes with a spurting hand, so I was forced to bare all to sister dearest. Our bond has been stronger ever since.
What song would precede your entrance into a room if we all had personal soundtracks?
What’s that one that goes something like, ‘move bitch, get out the way‘? No, I guess it would depend on the mood, the context, and the room. If I’m in my heels, feeling good, dressed for success, then it’s gotta be something like Nightclubbing by Iggy Pop – a real funky little ditty.
If, on the other hand, it’s entering a place I don’t want to be – work – I’m tired, stressed, lacking in energy, or maybe just a little bit sad, then I would probably enter to the strains of Sunday Morning Coming Down as sung by the great Kris Kristofferson.
There have been times when I’m not quite at scenario one but am just breaking out of scenario two, feeling a little defiant, I’m going to be playing Deadman’s Gun by Ashtar Command (heard it first at the end of Red Dead Redemption and thought it was possibly one of the best things I’ve ever heard.)
There is also the possibility that I’m entering the room, and you’re in big, big trouble. In which case, you’re getting blasted with Metallica’s Don’t Tread on Me. (Or Tear You Apart by She Wants Revenge.)
Promote yourself and/or your writing
You know how sometimes you have a moment where everything goes right, you’re completely on top of things, and you think to yourself, ‘Christ, I’m awesome’? Well that’s me, all the time – awesome.
Okay, okay, all joking aside. This is what I love to do, this is what I want to do, so I’m going to make damn sure I do it right. Red Wine and Words, my first short story collection, has gotten some really good independent reviews. It has been likened on more than one occasion to Poe, Conan Doyle and Lovecraft, and described as ‘chilling,’ ‘an amazing collection,’ and one that ‘stays in the mind long after finishing.’
I’ve just about completed a second collection and have the third in the series ready to go. Last year, I finished my first novel that was never supposed to be a novel, but it grabbed my pen and ran away with it. Now it’s earmarked to become a trilogy of conspiracy, horror, Christianity, and the occult. Then there’s one which is going to deal with suicide from a different angle and the one inspired by my experiences with Alzheimer’s. And these are just the tip of the iceberg, so dedicated fans can be assured that they will have a dedicated author for many years to come (or as long as she can support herself).
Final thoughts before you run screaming for your life?
Cotton wool. Isn’t that a strange little anomaly? We use it to remove our makeup, disinfect wounds, staunch bleeding, protect sores, and soothe nappy rash, yet pop it between your teeth, and it becomes a thing from hell and begins to embody all the things that are wrong with the world.
Other random thoughts include my author page on Facebook, some terribly fun stuff going on over there.
My blog which has regular updates and information on Red Wine and Words and other anthologies, as well as future projects.
I’m also on Storylane and have some more soul bearing articles over there.
Well, Ms. Ennis, thank you for “using us as a sounding board.” *SMIRK* I hope we didn’t echo too much. You’re welcome to take the top hat. I found it in a train tunnel. Now, since I’ve shut off the lights, you’ll have to feel your way to the exit. Don’t mind the squiggly things. And whatever you do, don’t take the first door you find.