A. E. Decker hails from Pennsylvania. A former doll-maker and ESL tutor, she earned a master’s degree in history, where she developed a love of turning old stories upside-down to see what fell out of them. This led in turn to the writing of her YA novel, The Falling of the Moon. A graduate of Odyssey 2011, her short fiction has appeared in such venues as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Fireside Magazine, and in World Weaver Press’s own Specter Spectacular. Like all writers, she is owned by three cats. Come visit her, her cats, and her fur Daleks at wordsmeetworld.com or @MoonfallMayhem. The Falling of the Moon, from World Weaver Press was published in October 2015. Like all writers, she is owned by three cats.
Interview by BWG member Jerry McFadden
Bethlehem Writers Group: Congratulations on the launch of your YA fantasy novel, THE FALLING OF THE MOON. You have been quoted as saying that it took you five years to write it. Can you tell us about the struggle to get it done and how you were able to cling to the genesis of the story that originally inspired you?
Then I asked myself two questions that changed everything: “Why was the miller’s/Count’s will so unfair?” and “Why is Puss/Moony going through so much trouble to help the miller’s third son when he seems like an idiot?” The solution that popped into my head was: what if the third son is a daughter, and the miller/Count didn’t leave her anything in the will because he just dismissed her as “a girl” and figured she’d marry and leave his household anyway?
At that moment, Moony stopped being the protagonist and Ascot was born. The kernel of the story never varied from that moment. I knew I wanted Ascot to leave her home in Shadowvale and make an attempt at finding her own Happily Ever After, but I also knew I didn’t want the story to end in the traditional way, with her marrying a prince.
The very last line of the book never changed. I take that as proof that I always knew where the story was going. The tough part was figuring out how the parts of the plot worked together. It also took me a while to understand Ascot. At first, I was trying too hard to make her the “misunderstood tough girl” who’s “not like other girls.” That’s a trope in this genre, but it made her character feel a little forced and unnatural. I had to learn to let that, among other things, go. The Falling of the Moon is my first entirely original novel, so there was a steep learning curve.
I still have the original Moony, by the way.
BWG: just being nosy, but why are you using the pen name A.E. Decker as opposed to Ann Decker?
AED: Would you believe there are still some readers out there who won’t pick up a book if the author’s a woman? Sad, but true.
BWG: In the past, you have been a very prolific short story writer but with the launch of THE FALLING OF THE MOON and your contractual commitment to a series of five novels in the theme Moonfall Mayhem, you are now established as a YA novelist. Do you prefer the long haul of novel writing over short stories, or is it more of a career consideration to devote yourself to novels?
AED: I love writing short stories. I have several that I’d dearly like to work on, but the truth is; every story takes a certain amount of brain-space to work on properly. Unless I get one of those out-of- the blue inspirations where a story practically seems to write itself—and I love when that happens—it takes me about two weeks of work to write what I consider a polished short story, ready for submission. Right now, I’m finding it hard to spare that much time. Also, it’s a question of shifting mental gears. The Moonfall Mayhem series is a quirky YA fantasy, but most of the shorts I have outlines for are very different in tone, which makes jumping from one to the other—well, it’s like mixing Mexican food with Thai. It’s not something you want to do in one meal.
As for the second part of your question, yes it is a career consideration, to write novels. Short stories are where you hone your craft, but they don’t have the potential to build a following the same way novels do. By and large, readers want series. They want characters and worlds that build, which makes sense to me, because if you like the first book in a series, you’re very likely to enjoy the next as well, and the one after that. It’s like a guaranteed investment of a reader’s time, and that’s what I’m hoping to hook into with my novels.
That said, you’re making me want to put in some work on my shorts. Sigh.
BWG: The 1st short story I ever read of yours was a sweet “relationship” story, "The Ice Prince," that appeared in the BWG anthology ONCE AROUND THE SUN (2013). Since then, all subsequent stories have a blend of witty, quirky fantasy. Did you make a conscious effort to move away from “main stream” stories to “off beat” fantasies or was that something that just evolved?
AED: Thank you for remembering “The Ice Prince.” That remains one of my favorite stories I’ve written, and it’s definitely different from my usual fare.
Writing quirky, often humorous, stories is not so much a conscious decision as it seems to be where my talents and preferences lie. I get a lot of people telling me that humor is hard to write, which I always respond to with a “Huh?” and raised eyebrows, because for me, it’s the easiest to write. Even in my most serious works, and I have written a few very dark stories, there tends to be a moment of snarky humor. So, if it’s true that humor is tough to write, it means my work stands out a little more from the crowd.
Also, there’s a lot of grim fiction these days, particularly in the fantasy genre. It seems to be the trend to write stories where life is awful, people betray one another and die miserable deaths, unloved. George R. R. Martin’s A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, which I’ve read and enjoyed, springs to mind. But how much darkness do we need before it leads to apathy? For me, it grows wearing, so I’d rather write stories where, in the end, people turn out to be decent and help each other rather than stab one another in the back. If you can laugh along the journey, so much the better.
BWG: Most authors would consider getting a three novel commitment from their publisher to be a home run but you scored a five novel commitment, which can be considered running the table on the first time you touch a cue stick. How did that come about?
AED: Well, World Weaver Press is a small publisher that’s looking for authors they can nurture. Also, the longer the series is, the more likely it is to draw gather a following, which hopefully means more attention for the press as well, so it makes sense to make that commitment. Also, when my editor asked if I intended to write a series, I had a very strong “yes” ready for her, along with not only titles for the next four books, but brief summaries of their plots and themes as well. So, if you’re a writer, be prepared for that question.
On a note of caution, this is the publishing industry, and while we all hope all five volumes of the Moonfall Mayhem series will be published by World Weaver, the situation may change down the line. It’s a tough business, and publishers fold all the time. Fortunately, we live in an era where self-publishing is an option. You learn to be flexible.
All that said, and at the risk of sounding like an egotistical jerk, THE FALLING OF THE MOON really is a good book.In the end, it always comes down to the product you’re offering for sale. As a reader myself, I can say I haven’t read a story quite like it—which is one of the reasons I wrote it!
BWG: Tomato obsessed hit men - A chess knight turned human - A magic chocolate guild - Bat winged cats - Where does your inspiration for quirky characters and story lines come from?
AED: Oh, this question, eh? *Laughs.* You write what interests you. I have an obsession with chess. It’s a beautiful game, with so much history behind it. I don’t play it simply because of this obsession, because I can see myself getting far too involved and spending all my time at it, so I find ways to write about itinstead, which satisfies the itch. Likewise, I’m a chocoholic, so what could be more fun than wizards who do magic with chocolate? That’s not even a far imaginative step; go inside any high-end chocolate shop and you’ll swear wizards at work. Making the mundane extraordinary is the main fun of this job. It’s also the incredible gift of writing. It allows you to create spectacular worlds of your own imagining. That’s why I’m drawn to fantasy; creatively, it stretches the boundary of the possible far more than any other genre.
As for the hit man of the supernatural you mentioned, that’s Chris Ricotta, the protagonist of my urban fantasy series. His tomato obsession is a subversion of a trope. We’ve all seen badass monster hunters before, but how many of them have been avid gardeners? Another part of doing your job right is taking something that’s been done before and putting your own twist on it. That’s how you develop style and make yourself stand out from other writers who are working in the same sub-genre.
BWG: I won’t even ask how your chocolate obsession came about. Who isn’t obsessed with chocolate?
AED: Strange people.
BWG: When I read your stories I am always confronted with new vocabulary that I never hear before. For instance: Theobromancy. I tried to look that up but as close as my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary could bring me was Theobroma - A genus of low trees, of which one species, T. Cacao, a native of tropical America, is the source of cacao and chocolate, hence Theobromic, a chemical in theobromic acid, obtained for cacao butter. (Note: The spell checker on my computer hates both words,) Are you using the dictionary to come up with such words or do these convolutions just drip off your tongue?
AED: “Theobromancy” seemed perfectly logical to me, as it combines the scientific name for chocolate with “sorcery.” It’s a “portmanteau word,” as Lewis Carroll called them, and you can’t go wrong with Lewis Carroll. A big part of writing in the fantasy genre is world-building, and that often includes creating new words to go along with new world. J. R. R. Tolkien was obviously the master at this. My style of coming up with new words is mostly based on sound; I try to create a word that either sounds amusing or vaguely resembles another word with either a similar or opposite meaning.
For THE FALLING OF THE MOON, I invented a curse word, as it is a YA and I didn’t want to pepper the story with a bunch of profanity. So I came up with “frabjacket,” for Ascot to say when she’s feeling annoyed. It means: “That feeling you get when your brand new piece of clothing gets a massive stain five minutes after you put it on.”
We’ve all had those days.
BWG: At school you majored in English and Colonial American History. It is also reported that you have been a former ESL tutor, a tai chi instructor, and doll-maker, as well as studying acting in London with members of the Royal Shakespeare Company. When did the urge to be a full time writer take-over?
AED: I always wanted to be a writer, but when I was young, I bought into the narrative that you had a career first then wrote your books after you retired. This is something of a cruel lie. Of course plenty of authors have taken up the pen (or keyboard) after retirement. An even larger number of authors work a second job in addition to their writing—contrary to popular belief, few of us are growing rich off our efforts. The truth is, writing a novel is not only a tremendous amount of work, but it also takes a long time to reach the point where you’re producing work worthy of being sent off into the world. I’ve always written. I wrote fan fiction while working on my Masters degree, just to keep my creative brain working. But I think it was while I was working as an ESL tutor that I realized that if I really wanted to be an author, I was going to have to seriously take the time to master my craft. My decision to seriously turn my efforts to becoming a published writer probably started with THE FALLING OF THE MOON, actually, because it was my first determined effort to sit down and finish an entire, original novel. If I’d realized how ambitious I was being at the time, I might never have gotten started in the first place.
BWG: Can you tell us about your writing routine? Daily? How many hours? Any standard routine you use to get started?
AED: I’m a morning writer, generally. I do get my breakfast and coffee, get on the internet, and open Word to whatever I’m working on for the day. I don’t start writing until I’ve finished my breakfast, however. You don’t want your brain to start associating writing with eating or drinking, or the next thing you know, you won’t be able to write without eating. It’s terribly easy to form habits—which can be a good thing if you take the trouble to form the good habits. So, after I’m settled, I start writing. Usually I write for four hours, with occasional breaks to look things up on the internet. If I get stuck on a plot point, I go out and run some errands. For whatever reason, I often come up with brilliant inspirations while driving. Walks sometimes work, too. I also keep a notebook and pen by my bed in case inspiration strikes during the night. Finally, sometimes, you just have to lie on your back and run through possibilities in your head. This is actually quite difficult, because it looks like you’re just lazing about, and if anyone saw you, they’d probably become quite indignant if you told them you were working. I often keep a notebook on hand at these moments too, so I can grab it up and look busy, should anyone come by
BWG: What is your current schedule on the promotions and signings for THE FALLING OF THE MOON and the Moonfall Mayhem series? Is the publisher setting these up for you or are you scrambling to organize these on your own?
AED: I held a Goodreads Giveaway in April for THE FALLING OF THE MOON, just in the hopes of drumming up some more interest and reviews. I’ll likely hold another giveaway for advance review copies of book two, THE MEDDLERS OF MOONSHINE, sometime this summer. I’ll petition review sites, asking if they want to read it, and perhaps do a blog tour. I’ll also put out word on various social media, but hopefully, World Weaver will do their share as well. THE MEDDLERS OF MOONSHINE is tentatively due out in early fall, and it still needs heavy revisions, so currently I’m more concerned with getting those completed and writing a draft of book three than advertising.
BWG: I also had to look up the word Daleks - but that is more of a cultural deficit on my part than an invented vocabulary by you. Even your author photo has you interfacing with a Dalek. How did this Dalek obsession come about?
AED: You can’t write in the fantasy genre and not be aware of Doctor Who. I gave in and started watching a few years ago, but it didn’t entirely click until the episode “Dalek,” at which point
I fell in love with it. I mean, here are the Daleks, supposedly the greatest menace in the entire universe, and they’re armed with a plunger and an egg beater and talk like toddlers on the verge of a tantrum. They’re so ridiculous, they’re brilliant. They’re the kind of thing you couldn’t seriously pitch to an agent or producer without receiving all sort of odd looks, and that’s exactly why they work so well. In a universe populated with bug-eyed slime monsters, they really stand out. Fifty years and still going strong—that’s the kind of effect you want your work to have. I wear a 3D printed Dalek around my neck to remind myself not to play it safe in my writing either. Going too far is preferable to blending in with the crowd.
Oh, yeah, almost forgot: EXTERMINATE!