A.C. Wise is the author of numerous short stories that have appeared in Shimmer, Clarkesworld, and Lightspeed. When she isn’t enlightening you with the odd and uncanny, she can be found over at SF Signal updating her long running column of Women To Read. She is also the co-editor of Unlikely Story.
The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again is her collection of short stories that’ll be released later this year. I’m buying it based on the amazing title alone.
A transplant from Canada, A.C. Wise now calls our lovely city home.
You were born and raised in Montreal, how did you find yourself in Philadelphia?
The short answer is: for my husband’s work. However, that’s not a very interesting answer. So, the slightly longer version is that I came to Philadelphia by way of New Jersey. I have a habit (which may well bite me in the butt one day) of visiting a place and making a snap decision about wanting to live there. While living in New Jersey, we visited a friend living in the Philly area. A few years later, when we were looking to move out of New Jersey, I decided Philly was the place to be, based on one very brief visit. Eight-ish years later, and I have not had cause to regret my snap judgment yet.
As co-editor of Unlikely Story, what is it about a story that really makes it stand out to you? Characters, setting, plot, voice, a delicate balance of all four?
As a writer, I know how frustrating it is when editors say this, but… My philosophy with stories is ‘I’ll know it when I see it’. I do my best to go into the slush pile without anything but the vaguest idea of what I’m looking for (well-written, related to our theme, etc.), hoping to discover something I never knew I wanted. Any one of the elements you mention – character, plot, setting, voice, could win me over on its own. Finding that perfect combination of all four is pure magic.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Writing has pretty much always been part of my life. My parents had an electric typewriter when I was very young, which I used to enthusiastically type stories about Cat and Dog and Mouse and Duck. I still have them in a blue binder on one of my bookshelves. They’re full of delightful misspellings and they’re even illustrated and everything! That aside, I don’t think it occurred to me one could ‘be a writer’ until fourth grade. One of my teachers accused me of having my parents write the short story she’d assigned as homework. When my parents assured her they had nothing to do with the story, she became very supportive and encouraged me to stick with writing. That was the first time I realized ‘being a writer’ was a thing I could do with my life.
Who (or what) are some of your influences?
Ray Bradbury is an early influence. The way he uses language, and the sheer joy and enthusiasm in his words is still a source of inspiration. Caitlin Kiernan and Ellen Datlow are also on the list. I’m regularly inspired by other ‘newer’ authors publishing fiction today – E. Catherine Tobler, Carmen Maria Machado (another Philadelphian, hint, hint), Damien Angelica Walters, Sunny Moraine, Isabel Yap, Sarah Pinsker, Fran Wilde – to name just a few. Reading their work makes me want to be a better writer. It makes me want to push myself to create prose as beautiful and heartbreaking as theirs, to make my characters stand out the way theirs do, and to create worlds as haunting as the ones they inhabit.
How would you describe your fiction?
Hmmm. Slipstreamy? Dark? Weird? Hard to label and pin down? I like to blend and mash genres whenever possible.
Some of your stories circle around the uncanny, odd, and occasionally horrifying. What is it about the weird or terrifying that attracts you?
Everything is better with werewolves/zombies/mermaids/robots/unicorns/yetis/take your pick. Inserting elements of the weird and uncanny is a way to break the world open, and force the reader to look at it more closely. Ideally, by shaking up the comfortable and everyday accepted reality, writers of the weird and uncanny lead the reader to question their assumptions, to challenge what they’ve always been taught about the way the world works. It opens up possibilities. It holds up a mirror, slightly askew. And, it’s fun!
What are you afraid of?
Sadly for someone who edits a publication that started life as The Journal of Unlikely Entomology – spiders. It’s wholly irrational, I know it, but phobias frequently are. I will admit to jumping, flailing, and yelling getitoffgetitoffgetitoff if I happen to find one in immediate proximity to my person.
What are you currently working on?
At the moment, I have a handful of short stories in various stages of completion. Like many authors, I’m also ‘working on a novel’, which for me means taking it out every few months, poking at it, and then shoving it back in a virtual drawer because novels are big and scary.
Do you have some reading recommendations for us? Authors, books, short stories?
I would heartily recommend the last two novels I read – Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, and Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. The first is a weird west steampunk mystery adventure centered around the ‘soiled doves’ of Madame Damnable’s bordello. The characters are compelling and it’s impossible not to fall in love with them. The second is about a group of teenagers who discover how to cast spells using vinyl records, with the narrative moving back and forth between those years and their lives as adults, twenty years later. The main character, Meche, is rough and flawed and prickly and angry, but also fiercely loyal and caring and loving. The way she interacts with the world and the people around her feels incredibly real and human. For further novel and short story recommendations, I would point you toward my SF Signal series, Women to Read: Where to Start. If you’re so inclined, you can follow me on Twitter (@ac_wise), where I frequently recommend short fiction, novels, anthologies, collections, and rave about the authors whose work I love.
Any advice for young and aspiring writers?
Oh my. That implies I know what I’m doing. Let’s see… Write what you are passionate about, write in your voice, write what you want to read, not what you think editors/readers/reviewers want to see. Find a good critique group. An extra set of eyes on your work is always a good thing, plus you’ll have like-minded folks to celebrate and commiserate with as the situation warrants. Read a lot. Don’t self-reject. Send your work out into the world and keep sending it out. Yes, rejection sucks, but editors can’t fall in love with and buy work they never see. Don’t be afraid of a little self-promotion. That doesn’t mean you have to be shoving your work down throats at every turn, but if you’ve published something, let people know where to find it. If you’re eligible for an award, make it known. As with editors, readers can’t fall in love with your work and tell all their friends about it if they never see it.
For more information on A.C. Wise, be sure to check out her website at www.acwise.net.