Interview with Melinda Selmys

Melinda Selmys’s story, The Blackguard of God, appears in the Summer 2007 issue of Shimmer.

QUESTIONS ABOUT THE STORY:

Where did the idea come from?
Sitting in the basement with a friend who was applying to seminary, we naturally fell to discussing what the oddest things you might encounter on the other side of the confessional grille might be. Piracy was an obvious contribution to the conversation.

How did the story change as you developed it?

My original attempt to write this was a mess: it involved time travel, a ghost ship, and much head-beating-against-the-wall in an attempt to come up with an ending. My husband told me to rewrite it, and to develop the original inspiration instead of bogging it down with extraneous complications. Very good advice.

The second version got edited and sent off, but the Dred Captain Adams didn’t like the ending, because it made the story read like an extended joke. He was right. The new ending is much better.

You know the advice “Sometimes you have to kill your darlings.” Was there a scene or line that it really hurt to cut, but cutting it made the story stronger?
There are probably some things in the old version that I would find I liked if I went back and read it, but I was mostly just happy to be able to produce a version that I liked, and that didn’t have so many problems. So, no, it didn’t really hurt to cut any of it.

How is this story like your other work? How is it different?
It’s a lot sillier than most of what I write. It has less psychology and description, more dialogue and action.

QUESTIONS ABOUT WRITING:

How did you celebrate your first sale?
This is my first sale. We got a bottle of champagne, wrote a letter to the ex-seminarian friend who inspired the piece (he became a monk instead of a priest, and is therefore not easily reachable by telephone), and went to the toy store and bought some Knight and Minotaur figures. We say they’re for the kids. No one who knows us is deceived.

Does your work tend to explore any particular themes?

Insanity, gender, the dignity of the human person, and God are probably the top contenders. An inordinate number of my stories reference Homer or the Bible — not from a pretentious desire to imitate pre-twentieth-century poets, but because I named my sons Solomon and Ulysses.

What people have helped you the most with your writing?

My husband, who is absolutely committed to helping me improve my writing skills, spends a ridiculous amount of time studying technique and archetypes so that he can teach me and I can get on with writing instead of wading through books about writing, and who does all the market research to try to sell what I write. Second is my friend Neil, who reads and critiques everything I write, and cites reading the complete version of my novel as the only attraction that makes him hope that he won’t be gathered up into heaven before it’s finished.

Favorite book you’ve read recently?
Recently: Les Miserables — though I wish Hugo had a more ruthless editor.
All time favourite: The Brothers Karamazov.
I don’t read fantasy (apart from Tolkien), because I fear becoming obviously derivative. If you steal your ideas from Robert Jordan, everyone will notice. If you steal them from Herodotus, people will either think you’re original or clever.

RANDOM QUESTIONS:

If you have a day job, what is it? What do you like about it?
My day job is raising and homeschooling four small children. It’s tremendously interesting, because all children are born utterly unique, but also quite malleable, so it’s a combination of discovery and formation — much like writing is when it’s really inspired. You have to think about what things to teach: what’s essential, what’s appropriate to this child, what’s the best way to communicate different types of knowledge. It’s amazing to realize how much a child can learn, and I find that I learn a lot myself teaching things that should be basic, but aren’t taught in most schools.

Favourite food?
Either sushi or eggplant parmesian.

What are some of your hobbies?
Cooking, literary criticism, board games, philosophy and German toys (particularly Playmobil.)

All-time favourite movie?

Andrei Rublev.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
A Crone. With lots of wrinkles, and a head like a dandelion gone to seed. Miss Marple with great-grandchildren.

Quiz: How many writers does it take to change a lightbulb? Please explain your answer:
None. The light goes out. You stumble in the dark and work by the light of the computer screen. You jot down a note about lightbulbs on a scrap of paper, and promptly lose it. You get used to working in the dark. Occasionally, you think “I should change that light bulb.” Eventually, the light starts working again. Either it’s a miracle, or someone else did it for you.

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