Interview with A.J. Clarkson

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Welcome! Today I’m interviewing the fantastical A.J. Clarkson, a woman who has my deep respect for her perseverance and resourcefulness.
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Where do you get your ideas?

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One factor for me is that writing for audio plays is limiting in some ways.   An audio play has to tell everything with only two things: dialogue and sound effects. The listener’s imagination provides the rest. If a story can’t be expressed like that, then I can’t really use it. I have a great idea for a short horror story, about a mom and dad go to fetch their daughter whose car died on her way home from a date. But the payoff at the end has to be visual. I can’t figure out how to express it only with dialogue .and sound effects. So I can’t use it.

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And literally as I typed that last sentence above, I thought of a way to express it through dialogue. Ideas are slippery, annoying, wonderful creatures.

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This is the question every writer is asked, and I don’t think any of us really know the answer. Why does this idea germ stick, and that one doesn’t? For me, I look around at the world. I read lots of stuff: books, magazine articles, lots and lots of online surfing. J listen to people talk, I watch how they act. There’s no specific pattern to it, I just let ideas hit me, and see which one sticks. Blackburn Gaslight Adventures came from a dream about a man and woman on horseback, fleeing something that was chasing them; that’s literally all I started with. Fortuna came from a combination of my love of the old A-Team tv series, plus a conversation I had with a friend about space freighters, with a little Joss Whedon and Babylon 5 thrown in for flavor. The story I’m currently working on started as a frustration with how magic is depicted in modern urban fantasy, and wanting to see if I could take it another direction.

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Well, you had me at Babylon 5. I’m watching through the whole series again, it remains one of my all-time favorites. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

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DON’T STOP! I had no confidence in my own talent when I was a young writer. I’d let that little voice win; I’d believe him when he said my work sucked, and why are you wasting your time. Sometimes I would go months without writing anything. Now I’d give anything to have that wasted time back (and to strangle that little voice, but that’s another conversation)

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I went by entire decades without writing OR drawing! I do understand. Does writing energize or exhaust you?

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That’s me, every blasted day. I’m a morning writer, so my routine is to wake up, eat breakfast, take medicines, take a quick peek at the headlines, and then start writing. I spend that entire time in absolute dread of starting to write. You can’t know, from one day to the next, whether today’s writing session is going to be good, or a painful slog. I hate the slog days. But when the writing is good, it really is like taking a hit of cocaine. Suddenly I’m on fire, I talk to the computer, I laugh at my own writing, I’ve been known to cry from time to time.

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It’s not until I close the file for the day and take a deep breath do I realize just how tired I am. Who’d think that just using your imagination could be so exhausting? Totally worth it, though. When it’s a slog, it’s the worst, but oh, honey, when it’s good, it’s the best feeling in the world.

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You ever been to Disneyworld? At first you live in dread. “Oh, God, a fifteen hour drive, one way? I can’t do it!” But you get in the car and go. And when you get to Disneyworld suddenly it’s like you’ve been hit with a shot of cocaine. “Hot dog, we’re here, let’s go. I wanna look at that, let’s go do this, come on, you’re falling behind, let’s go go go!” You want to try it all and do it all, and you’ve got the energy of a ten year old. It’s not until you’re back in the car, on your way back to the hotel that you realize that your feet hurt, your back hurts, and you’re so tired that just pushing the button on the elevator requires more strength than you have.

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What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a piece?

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Fortuna requires less research. I am already very familiar with the science of space travel and the tropes of this sort of golden age space opera, because I’ve been reading it since I was old enough to hold a book.   With Fortuna, I’ll do spot research instead. Like, for an upcoming episode, I ended up asking an acquaintance at the Joddrell Bank Observatory about zombie stars (How cool is that? There’s really such a thing as a zombie star!) and the physics of when these stars blow (which they almost invariably do) to get things right in the story.

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For the play, “Maximum Dispersal,” that actually came out of a bit of random reading. I stumbled across an article about the fungi involved and it triggered the idea. I spent half an hour looking up examples and that was it. The play wrote itself after that.

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That depends on the story. The Blackburn Gaslight Adventures is set in the American Civil War. I did a lot of research on the time period, on the Civil War. Fact is, the first story of BGA started life as a novel. But it meant I had to travel to Perryville, KY (the Civil War battleground nearest to my home, and the setting of the story) to view the landscape and learn about the battle. There was no way I was going to be able to go where I needed to go in a wheelchair, so I tabled the idea for a while. But as an audio drama, I don’t need to be able to describe the scene accurately; the listener’s imagination is going to do the work for me.

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Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

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Yeah, actually. For example, Fortuna has an Easter Egg, and only one person has guessed it so far, that I know of. It’s Space Opera, a term which has always made me smile. So I played with it. In Fortuna, every planet, ship, colony, and space station come from operas. The ship Delibes is named for a composer. Fortuna itself is the title of a song. Niebelungen Colony is named for the opera, The Song of the Niebelung.

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I’d recognize the Niebelung, but probably not the others. What is your favorite childhood book?

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Without doubt, Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass. I first read Alice when I was four years old, and it is still my all time favorite.

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Jeez, where do I start.  It’s been a huge learning curve for me.  Writing audio plays is both easier and harder than writing straight prose.  I really struggle writing description in prose, so script format is much easier for me.  But on the other hand, the removal of the visual element can be tricky.  You have to set the scene and show what’s happening visually by only using a few key sound effects and dialogue (and you can’t let the dialogue fall into too much description, or else your characters start sounding like Basil Exposition!). 

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What’s something about writing audio drama that you didn’t realize until you got into it?

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What I really didn’t expect was how amazing it is to work with the actors. I very much encourage ad libs.  My producer and I tell the actors:  give us one clean read of the line, then go crazy and do your own thing on the other two reads (we try to get three reads for each line).  It’s great what the actors come up with.  They change wordings, they change inflection, they give versions that I never ever imagined when I wrote the words.  Some of them are not usable, of course.  But some are just wonderful!

It makes sense, if you think about it.  When I write, I’m having to juggle all the characters, the plot, the setting, trying to be funny or suspenseful or whatever; I’ve got a lot of my plate. But actors only have that one character to think about, and they think about him or her much more intensely than I do.   Of course they’re going to have a slightly different idea of who that guy is than I have.  The joy of it, it becomes a sort of collaboration, which I have always enjoyed doing, and don’t get to do that often.  This is why I try to keep in contact with the actors, and talk to them about what they see in the characters, and what I have planned for them.  The more we are in synch, the better the results.

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Thanks for coming by, A. J.! Check out all her goodies below 😀 

Author Bio

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AJ Clarkson can’t remember a time when she wasn’t in love with books, science fiction, horror and deliciously cheesy golden age pulps.  She’s written for gaming magazines, written urban fantasy and science fiction, and currently writes audio drama for Gypsy Audio  She lives in Appalachia with her husband and kids, a menagerie of dogs, cats and horses, and more books than will actually fit into her house.

 

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The Blackburn Gaslight Adventures Audio Drama:

 http://www.gypsyaudio.org/show/blackburn/

Oh Fortuna (Pirates! In!  Spaaaaace!) Audio Drama:

 http://www.gypsyaudio.org/show/fortuna/

Act of God (one-off comic fantasy) Audio Drama:

 http://www.gypsyaudio.org/the-g-files/actofgod/

Maximum Dispersal (one-off horror) Audio Drama:

http://www.gypsyaudio.org/the-g-files/maximum-dispersal/

Don’t Touch That Dial! (one off horror) Audio Drama:

 http://www.gypsyaudio.org/twisted-tales/dont-touch-that-dial-halloween-2014/

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I write historical fantasy novels, mostly set in Ireland, and a contemporary romance based on my parents’ 30-year search for true love. Don’t miss information on Celtic myth and history, as well as practical travel planning tips, and hidden places, in my travel books.
– Better To Have Loved – Contemporary romance based on the true story of my parents’ 30-year search for love
– Legacy of Hunger – Historical fantasy set in 1846 Ireland
– Legacy of Truth – Historical fantasy set around 1800 Ireland. Prequel to Legacy of Hunger. Available now!
– Legacy of Luck – Historical fantasy set in 1745 Ireland and Scotland. Prequel to Legacy of Truth, tentative release date January 11, 2017!
– The Enchanted Swans – Historical fantasy set in 500 BCE Ireland, based on The Children of Lir, an Irish Fairy Tale. Tentative release date March 8, 2017!
– Stunning, Strange and Secret: A Guide to Hidden Scotland
– Mythical, Magical, Mystical: A Guide to Hidden Ireland
More info at Green Dragon Artist :: Home ,
Christy Jackson Nicholas, Author , and
Tirgearr Publishing – Christy Nicholas
Green Dragon Artist Blog
Handmade at Amazon Store
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I am an artist, accountant and author living in western New York, transplanted from Denmark, Michigan, Florida, West Virginia, Pennsylvania (in that order!) I love the beauty of the world and sharing it with others through jewelry, photography, digital painting and writing.

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