Burning the Midnight Oil, fiction, Issue 17, December 1, 2011
When did you start writing?
I started dictating stories about multi-colored talking sheep to my mother at the age of five or so. I was about eleven when I tackled what I thought of as a novel. (It wasn't. More of a novella.) I came to short stories much later.
When and what and where did you first get published? My first sale was to "Bash Down The Door Slice Open The Badguy," an anthology of humorous sword and sorcery--my story "But Before I Kill You..." was about the ground rules of an evil overlady. It took a bit for that to come out, though, and in the interim I sold another story which was my first to actually come out in print. It was with Leading Edge magazine, "The Dreamweaver's Dispute" ... frantically retitled from "Firstborn" after I was informed that they'd had a story in the previous issue with the same title. By Orson Scott Card, at that. Oops. (Mine was initially titled "Firstborn" because the entire story is built on a reversal of the traditional fairy contract: "I'll give you my firstborn child in exchange...")
What themes do you like to write about? I don't consciously set out to write to themes, but I find certain strands
appear frequently in my stories: the bond between families, particularly parents and children; communication with the dead; the struggle, not just to do the right thing, but to be sure of what that is. I am fascinated by the concept of seeing into the future and what that does to a person.
What books and/or stories have most resonated with you as an author? Why? How do these stories and their characters find expression in your work? A book that deeply impressed me as a writer was Children of Chaos by Dave Duncan (no relation), an intense, immersive fantasy that, to my mind, embodies Teresa Nielsen Hayden's quote, "Plot is a literary convention. Story is a force of nature." The events on the page flow out so inevitably from the actions of the characters that it doesn't feel like a book: it feels like a window on another world. I strive to catch this sense of authenticity and spontaneity.
There is an anthology entitled Murder By Magic, edited by Rosemary Edghill, which contains stories incorporating crime (not necessarily murder, despite the title) and fantastic elements, and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of how these two elements could be combined. Mysteries in general have influenced the way I build stories and regard "fair play" towards readers, whether it be with a genuine mystery or simply foreshadowing a plot element. Murder By Magic contains "Cold Case," which is beautiful and chilling (and happens to involve one of my favorite story elements), and on the converse side, "Doppelgangster," which is comically wondrous.
Rebecca Bradley's Lady In Gil has a powerful ending...and it starts as a very tongue-in-cheek novel about a young man who is sent off to be "the hero" when no one expects him to succeed. The most effective parts of this novel occur as a natural outgrowth of looking at the humorous elements through the lens of logic. When the comedy takes a hard right turn, it works perfectly, and is all the more poignant for it. I think that humor is a key component even of the most grim tale; that breath of fresh air can make tragedy sharper.
In general, I am drawn to books and authors where the characters are fully fleshed, complex and immersive: Lois McMaster Bujold, Jana G. Oliver, Jane Lindskold.
Lindsey Duncan is a life-long writer and professional Celtic harp performer, with short fiction and poetry in numerous speculative fiction publications. Her contemporary fantasy novel, Flow, is forthcoming from Double Dragon Publishing. She feels that music and language are inextricably linked. She lives, performs and teaches harp in Cincinnati, Ohio. She can be found on the web at http://www.LindseyDuncan.com/writing.htm