The 7Q Interview: Sonora Taylor
Sonora Taylor is the author of Without Condition, The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, Wither and Other Stories, and Please Give. Her work has appeared in The Sirens Call, Mercurial Stories, Tales to Terrify, and Camden Park Press’ Quoth the Raven. She’s currently working on her next collection, Little Paranoias: Stories. She lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband. Visit her online at sonorawrites.com.
#1. Looking back, what’s one fiction book that you feel truly made an impact on your writing? Do you still gravitate towards that author?
#1. Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech. I first read it when I was in 4th or 5th grade. It’s written in the style of a journal, and follows the summer of a middle schooler named Mary Lou Finney. The book is funny, paced well, balances a lot of plot points while keeping its focus, and features unique and unforgettable characters. It also has a lot of dialogue.
It’s a book I’ve always loved, and still reread every couple of years even though I’m now 33. I didn’t realize how much of an impact it had on my writing until I reread it again after writing my first novel, Please Give. Its use of dialogue and humor especially stuck with me.
I haven’t read any other books by Creech, but I keep meaning to read Walk Two Moons.
#2. How do you feel about the use of sub-genres in the industry? How do you describe your work overall?
#2. I think sub-genres are great. Genres give the reader a quick glimpse of what’s in store, and sub-genres help define that further. Now, I don’t think they should get as convoluted as some of Netflix’s earliest sub-genre suggestions (I do miss those in my Netflix library, though, especially with my tastes), but I think a sub-genre or two can really help people know what they’re in for in a fast, non-spoilery way.
I describe my work as dark fiction to clarify that it’s not the monsters, creatures, or supernatural elements that one usually expects when one just says “horror.” However, I also describe my work as “horror” and list it as such on Amazon. I’ve written pieces with supernatural elements — usually nature gone awry — and I’ve written more than one story about serial killers. My work is character-driven, and a lot of it also incorporates family connections. My most recent novel, Without Condition, is a dark story about a serial killer, but also a romance about a woman in her first relationship. I like to write a good scare, but I’m most interested in examining how people think or react in the face of darkness — and I like that darkness to be pitch black.
I feel like my work will unsettle readers more than it will scare them, which is something I associate with dark fiction more than horror. That said, one reader said Without Condition gave her nightmares, so take that as you will!
#3. What about your writing process do you think is unique or quirky? What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?
#3. I love writing dialogue, and the best way for me to write it is to talk to myself. I’ll speak to myself like two (or more) of my characters having a conversation. I (try to) do this in private. My walks to work are an especially inspiring time, though I wonder if fellow commuters think I’m insane. But hey, it works! It helps me go back and write down a realistic conversation. I find this to be more effective than the common recommendation to sit down somewhere and listen to people speak, but to each their own.
I can’t recall any bad advice I’ve personally gotten, but on Twitter, I see a lot of promotions for algorithmic writing that’ll “guarantee a bestseller.” If writing based on a generic formula makes you happy, then go for it, I suppose. But I don’t think it will be a gratifying experience for the author. Writing is at its best when it comes from the heart (and then goes through an editor).
#4. How does music and media factor into your writing? Do you feel it plays as much an inspirational role as literature?
#4. Movies help me with pacing. When I imagine scenes in my head, I imagine them moving cinematically, complete with cuts and mise-en-scene. While I end up trimming a lot of expository prose, it helps me get to a place where I envision it well enough to describe something as quick as possible, if that makes sense. It also gives me unique ways to play with timing and juxtaposition. For instance, without spoiling anything, the last chapter of Without Condition moves like a filmed scene in the way it cuts back and forth between the night before and the morning after. I didn’t want it to be annoying in prose form, but it was also the best way for me to tell the final scene in the novel. I think that both watching and studying film helped me to do that effectively.
I always listen to music while I write — I’m listening to music now! “Electric Crown” by Testament, to be precise. But the rhythm of music keeps me motivated, and as such, I like things that are fast and repetitive. I actually listen to a lot of pop music when I write (and when I code) because it’s easy to keep in the background while also peppy enough to keep me working.
I also like to build playlists for my novels. They’re not soundtracks, but rather songs that reminded me of the book as I wrote it, or kept me thinking about it while I was at work and couldn’t write (well, when I wasn’t supposed to be writing, anyway). I still like to listen to them from time-to-time, even though the books are done. They’re public, if you’d like to take a listen. I have one for Please Give and one for Without Condition.
#5. As an author, how much do you engage in social media? Do you feel it is more for your own entertainment, or for marketing and networking?
#5. I’m on social media every day — probably too much, but hey. I work a digital job at a desk, and social media helps me pass the time between work tasks. I’m on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter; but probably use Twitter the most frequently.
I think Twitter especially is great for marketing and networking. I’ve met a lot of fellow authors on Twitter, as well as reviewers and bookstagrammers (who I proceeded to follow on Instagram). It’s especially helpful for self-publishers like myself, since we’re our own marketing department. I don’t have a ton of extra money to throw at paid promotions, and Twitter lets me advertise my books for free.
I also use all three platforms for my own entertainment, and I think that’s important. I had a presence on each before I started writing seriously and before I published my first book. I was used to going on Twitter, for instance, to talk about things like hockey, beer, and movies. Sharing my non-writing thoughts and photos comes naturally to me. While I market my stuff, I don’t want my social media accounts to be just about marketing my stuff. I want my personality to be there as well.
#6. Where do you see the future of horror fiction heading? In turn, what changes would you love to see, either socially or technologically?
#6. I see more diversity in both the writers and the stories being told. When we think of the horror literary greats, the names that always get mentioned first are familiar faces like King, Barker, and Koontz. You also hear Jackson and Shelley, especially when people are “thinking beyond white men,” but diversity doesn’t end with white women.
I think the abundance of small presses, as well as a viable self-publishing market, are opening more doors for this to happen. We’re getting a much better array of stories, and platforms like Twitter help readers learn about these stories from more than a select few magazines and talk shows. I’ve found so many books thanks to Twitter and eclectic book blogs, especially blogs that make it a point to promote more than just the usual or what everyone’s already talking about. And, the ease of buying these stories for Kindle makes me even more likely to give them a try.
I’d love to see more of an embrace of ebooks from readers. Across social media, I still see an idolizing of the printed page and the traditional book. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love physical books. I like that they can be signed, and I like seeing the cover art. But Kindle and other ebook platforms, in my mind, have only worked to expand reading, not cheapen it. Ebooks cost less (especially from independent authors) and makes it easier to go in blind and buy. Ebooks take up less space. They allow books to be read in more countries because shipping isn’t an issue. It also uses less paper and generates less waste. So, while I don’t disparage anyone who prefers the printed page — I, for instance, only read graphic novels in print — I’d like to see less tongue-in-cheek “Ew, Kindle” or “Wow, an actual BOOK” speak from the bookworm community.
#7. What can you tell us about any forthcoming projects? What titles would you like to promote now?
#7. Right now I’m working on my third novel. It’s my first supernatural one, about a teenage girl who discovers she can see the dead, but none of them want to talk to her. It takes place over the summer, and also focuses on frayed family bonds and the unique sense of being misunderstood that comes with being a girl.
My editor, Evelyn Duffy, is also editing my latest short story collection, called Little Paranoias. It has 20 pieces — flash fiction, short stories, and poems. It’s my longest collection yet and I’m excited to release it on October 22, 2019.
Right now, my second novel, Without Condition, is available on Amazon. I also have two small collections of dark short stories: The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, and Wither and Other Stories. You can also find a short story from me in Quoth the Raven, an anthology of stories and poems that put a contemporary twist on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. My story, “Hearts are Just ‘Likes,’” takes “The Tell-Tale Heart” and moves it to Instagram.