Susan-Alia Terry’s In My Hot Seat!
My Interview with SUSAN-ALIA TERRY!
I love to interview authors, but I am especially fascinated by debuting writers, so I am thrilled to have you with us today! Welcome, and thank you for allowing me to introduce you to my readers.
1. As I always do, let’s start by asking you to please describe yourself?
Well, unlike most writers, I didn’t write as a kid. I read a lot, but never considered writing. I went to college and majored in Religion and then promptly went to work as an Office Assistant. I worked in various offices in various capacities until I realized that I was bored and I had too much life ahead of me to live it bored out of my mind. So I began to take risks: moves to different states, singing lessons, yoga, guitar lessons, dream journaling, poetry/lyric writing, lots of self-help books, metaphysical studies – each one getting me closer and closer to who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do.
Completing a novel during National Writing Month in 2006 was when it all came together. The novel was very, very bad, but my feet were firmly set on the path to becoming an author. I plucked Roberta, Kai and Lucifer out of that novel and Coming Darkness began to take shape soon after. It was finally – FINALLY – completed in 2015, and published by our publisher, Creativia, in 2016.
2. During an interview with our friend and colleague, Sahara Foley, you said you were inspired to become a writer due to musical lyrics. I can totally relate to this because I think of lyrics as poetry set to music. Being able to relate to your fascination with how words can evoke emotion, I’d like to focus the first set of questions around this concept.
· Do you think it’s really the lyrics that draw the emotion from you? I think words are powerful, but I also think how they’re incorporated and performed makes a difference. What aspects of musical lyrics affects you the most, and why?
oLove this question! I think the music and the melody draw me in, but it’s the lyrics and delivery that keep me coming back. A good song has a musical or lyrical hook that gets your toe tapping, and if it’s simple enough, singing along to the chorus within seconds of hearing it. But a good turn of phrase or word choice can be magical. I definitely have a soft spot for singer/songwriters because of their artistry and facility with language.
oI find word choice and how language is used in lyrics particularly interesting. I remember back when I first heard “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield. It was the first time I had heard the word “moot”. I was like “Moot? What’s moot?” And I went and looked it up. To this day, it’s one of my favorite words. As I got to know more and more of his songs, I found that that’s a quirky and fun thing he does. Every once in awhile, he’ll throw these odd words in, ones that usually don’t appear in songs, and he somehow manages to incorporate them beautifully. I just love that.
oMy college roommate turned me on to the music of Dan Fogelberg. I remember kind of turning my nose up because he was so laid-back and hippy-ish. But to this day I listen to the songs on his first few albums and I’m still touched not only by the beauty of the music, but by the emotion and imagery he’s able to convey in the lyrics and with his voice.
· Not that I am a fan, but I know Kurt Cobain was quoted as saying, “Music comes first; lyrics are secondary.” I’m curious what you think of this notion? Do you feel you are more influenced by the poetry of a song or by the music itself?
oI want to say that Kurt was talking out of his butt, but he was a musician first so I’ll forgive his blasphemy! As an author, I’m all about the words. Case in point – Lenny Kravitz is an AWESOME musician. The music behind “Fly Away” is beyond spectacular – that guitar riff just hits me where I live!!! But the lyrics are…problematic. I suppose it works because the music stands out so much, but I feel disappointment every time I hear it because the lyrics don’t live up to the music.
oIn the end, I guess it’s just a matter of taste. I like different songs for different things. I love heavy metal for the crunchy loud guitars, and I love dance and pop music for the danceable beats and choruses that are fun to sing along to. While some of those artists have something to say (Queensryche comes to mind in the heavy metal category), not everything inspires me to write. When I’m inspired, it’s to add to the “collective conversation”, and not everything moves me in that way.
· Do you listen to music while you write, and if so, what and why?
oI wish! I am fascinated by, and a little envious of, writers that can write to music because I can’t do it. I’ve tried, and if it’s music I like, I’m either singing or bopping along. If it’s music that I don’t like, I spend my time griping about how much it sucks. Music I’m indifferent to is just noise. Since I can’t seem to detach from auditory input, the best thing for me to write to is silence.
· Do you have specific songs, artists, or genres that inspire you more than others? Who, and why do you think they have such an influence on your creativity?
oOdetta inspires me like no one can; my fingers itch to get writing when I hear her. I am in awe of her. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, though. Maybe it’s the rawness, the glimpse into her soul when she sings that does it for me. I’m honestly not sure.
oI just love Gavin DeGraw, “Soldier”is one of my favorite songs. Hint: if you can make me cry, I’m a fan forever!
oHozier makes very interesting lyrical choices.
oJason Manns has the voice of an angel, and the pure beautiful tone of his voice inspires me and makes me feel inadequate at the same time.
oSteve Carlson goes interesting places in his music and lyrics.
oChristian Kane is another one who uses clever and interesting turns of phrase.
oI lived and breathed Joan Armatrading’s first three albums for years. “Save Me” is one of my all-time favorite songs. Her plaintive delivery gets me every time.
oJoan Osbourne is another songwriter I listened to obsessively who leans more toward telling stories in her songs… There’s just so many, and so much to love!
oI don’t know why some musicians influence me and others don’t. I just know that whenever something resonates deeply within me the only right and true action is to respond creatively.
3. I know you’re not only an avid reader of fantasy, but you also write in the genre. Horror and sci-fi have drawn you to them as well. I’d like to focus on this in the next set of questions.
· What about dark fiction do you love? Why do you think it has dominated your literary choices?
· Fantasy, horror, sci-fi – all of it allows me to enjoy a sense of danger and excitement safely from my chair. What I love about those genres in general is that the only limits are those of the imagination, and the ability to tell a convincing story. All questions are fair game, nothing is off limits, and boundaries can be pushed and safely explored within the confines of The Story.
· What myths or tales ignited your love for dark fiction? Are there any authors or books that help shape your tastes and styles, impacting your writing?
oWhen I was a kid, my teacher read, “The Lady or the Tiger”and I was both horrified and captivated. Looking back to the way I felt then – that mixture of horror and captivation over something as seemingly simple as a choice – I think that was the catalyst.
oI fell in love with the work of Stephen King mainly because he was the first author I read that wrote in the vernacular. There was cursing! You could do that in a novel? The characters thought, spoke and acted like real people! People like to disparage him, but reading his work was eye-opening for me. I was hooked by the use of common language & relatable emotion, but then that horror/captivation combo kicked in and made me want to stay. The first thing I read by him was “The Mist” and I couldn’t look at fog the same way for a long time. How cool is that? I was freaked out not by ghosts and monsters – but by a run-of-the-mill, every day weather condition. My reading life was forever changed.
oClive Barker’s ability to create worlds within worlds still blows me away. There is so much going on in his work, on the surface and below. He has left an indelible impression on me. If I were to trace the origins of The City and Other-kin in my psyche, I would probably wind up at “Nightbreed” (“Cabal”).
oFor the longest time I was afraid to read “Interview with the Vampire” and when I did, I fell in love with Louis. And then when I read “The Vampire Lestat”, I fell in love with Lestat. That was my introduction to vampires that ran the good/evil spectrum. There was so much to chew on, the characters were so real.
oWhile I don’t try to emulate the above authors, and I couldn’t compare our styles to save my life, I know they’ve influenced me for the better. They’ve all written remarkable stories that have stayed with me throughout the years. I suppose if I aspire to anything, it would be to have that kind of longevity.
· Where did your love of reading come from and how did that translate into writing?
oMy parents were avid readers and I know they modeled the behavior for me. They had their noses in books – of course I had to know what was so interesting! But beyond that, I think once I realized that there were all these fascinating stories – ones beyond required reading in school – there was little to stop me. I was always an imaginative kid – my inner world was pretty awesome, and I think reading only enhanced it.
oThat love of reading took a long time to translate into writing. Although I had running stories in my head, I had little thought to actually writing anything down. When I thought about it, I’d get caught up in the minutiae: Oh man, I can’t just say that there’s a tree, I have to describethe stupid thing. I gotta be all literary! And then I’d automatically default to the literature I hated as a kid (*cough* Dickens *cough*). Literature I had no desire to emulate. There was also the little matter of believing that I had no stories to tell.
oBut then I found fan fiction and you have everything in fan fiction – great writers, poor writers. Great ideas and poor ideas. Writers churning out stories for no other reason than the love of the source material. Who does that? They did apparently, and while I was still firmly in the “I’m not a writer” camp at that time, I think that exposure weakened my resistance by helping me to lighten up, give myself a break, and begin to re-think what I was capable of.
· I can relate to your fascination with the unknown, such as aliens and monsters, though they terrified you. I found the more I learned about them, the less I feared them. Is that true for you also, or did your knowledge just create more questions?
oI think the older I got and the more innocence I lost, the less I was afraid of monsters.
oBut that being said, it didn’t dampen my curiosity. I will always be that annoying kid constantly asking “why?” At least in fiction, I can make stuff up to answer my own questions!
· Have there been any myths, legends, or monsters that called to you more the rest? If yes, what, and why do you think they interested you more than the others? Also, how did this intrigue influence your writing?
oI’ve always had a thing for vampires. I read a graphic novel of Dracula when I was in elementary or middle school – why Scholastic thought that it was appropriate for that age, I have no idea. Maybe because it was a “classic”? Anyway, not only could I not finish it, it kept me up many, many nights, just terrified. I had to hide the book because just looking at the cover scared me! I finally got around to reading the actual novel shortly before Francis Ford Coppola’s movie version was released. But of course by then I was my old jaded self, and it no longer terrified me.
oThat experience as a kid most likely planted the seed. It was such a primal terror! I’m not sure why I remained so fascinated with them; maybe it’s a nostalgic throwback to my first encounter? Whatever the reason, I know I love the idea of them. The idea that there’s a potentially timeless being that stalks and devours people at night. It’s so deliciously disturbing! There’s so much room to play with them too – zombies are pretty much a one-note deal – but vampires can be sexy, evil and anything in between. I enjoyed playing with the concept and making it my own.
4. I read you enjoy role-playing games, video and board games, and movies. Do you think these leisurely activities encourage your creativity, and if so, how? Any favorites?
They probably do, passively. Any activity that let’s my subconscious ruminate in peace, is a good activity!
I’m a big fan of World of Warcraft – been playing practically since the game came out. For the Alliance!
I’m also quite fond of Neverwinter Nights, Guild Wars, Rift, Lord of the Rings Online, and Dungeons and Dragons Online, even though I haven’t played them in awhile. BioShock is AWESOME – I’m not a big fan of stand-alone, first person shooters, but I am so in love with that game!
I play Dungeons and Dragons every week – been playing with the same group of players for years.
I’m a bit nutty when it comes to movies. Since video stores have gone kaput, I’m all over the streaming services. Sifting through and watching straight-to-video movies makes me ridiculously happy. Unfortunately, I kept running into the same ones and couldn’t remember if I’d seen (or liked) them. I finally bit the bullet and started a blog to keep track. If you’d like to take a peek at what I’ve been watching lately, or share in the joy or commiserate with the cringing-worthy awkwardness, it’s all here: Garden Gnomes of Terror. Come on by and say hello!
5. I am so excited to discuss the next set of questions. You’re educated in Religion and you wanted to go into ministry. Now, this seems to be a conflict where your love of fantasy and vampires are concerned, which completely captivates me!
· Do you think they’re in conflict with each other? Why or why not?
oI suppose they can be in conflict, although I’m not conflicted. It all depends on your core beliefs. If those lean toward a stricter interpretation of the Bible, then there will be conflict. In that case, I don’t see how they could peacefully co-exist. I had an aunt that was Pentecostal and when us kids visited her, we couldn’t play cards or go swimming – summer in Florida – needless to say, we were not happy! If I truly shared her beliefs, I would be a different person, with different tastes.
oAs it is, I’m a hippie mystic! My faith is firmly metaphysical and there’s lots of breathing room. It is possible that I’m working on any metaphysical conflicts through Coming Darkness, but even I don’t think I’m that deep!
· How has your faith and more so, you’re academic background in Religion affected your understanding and interpretation of myth, lore, and monsters?
oIt’s definitely given me a foundation from which to work, as well as pointing me in the direction I wanted to go right from the start. It also served as a launching pad for the deeper questions and themes I touched upon in Coming Darkness. A lot of it ended up on the cutting room floor, as in it was nice to know, but not necessary to the story. It’s hard when I want to share this cool thing, but I know it’s a tangent that is best left out!
Ø How has your faith and education influenced your writing?
ü Hopefully, it’s subtle! I like to think it has more of an influence on things inferred rather than things actually said.
Ø How has your interest in these dark topics impacted your faith and Religious Studies?
ü Because I’m all about metaphysics, I like to think that dark topics in fantasy can reflect dark topics in reality and understanding one can help in dealing with the other. For example, “Why do people do bad things?” An easy answer is “Because they’re evil.” But that answer doesn’t solve anything. It doesn’t make dealing with them any easier, nor does it resolve conflicts.
ü Take my character Stephan – nasty piece of work to be sure. But why does he do the things he does? Because he’s evil. Ok, but why? Because he wants to be important. Ok, but why? Because he feels inherently worthless. Ok, but why? Because his father humiliated him constantly, and even as a vampire he has that subconscious need to prove that he’s superior. You’ll never find this out in the narrative, but my knowing it, means I can give him depth. (That’s the fun of character creation!)
ü In taking that exercise to the “real world”, you begin the process of empathy, and realizing that the motivations that make people do the things they do are much deeper than the designation of “evil”. Because once you see past that, you can see the Child of God within. You can recognize their right to exist; you begin the process of conflict resolution.
ü One informs the other and vice versa. A fully fleshed out character can inspire empathy. When real people get on my nerves, I can look back at how I gave X-character a break because I saw them. In the real world, once you really see someone, you remember whom you’re speaking to. Seeing God in everyone (even if they don’t see God in you) is part of the Work.
ü As long as I’m still asking questions, and seeking answers, I continue learning.
· Do you view creatures, such as vampires, as ‘damned’ or ‘evil’? Why or why not?
oI love these questions! My vampires, werewolves, etc. are part of the Other-kin races – Human/Other hybrids. Generally, humans would consider them evil because Other-kin do things like enslave and eat humans. But I don’t see them as baseline evil because they are only acting according to their nature – they eat people, that’s just what they do. Is a lion evil for killing and eating a wildebeest? No, she’s feeding herself and her family. That act alone doesn’t make them evil.
oNow, these species do have Darkness in them from the Other, which is why some have no problem with the enslavement part. But they are capable of moral choices – hence Kai & his Master’s abhorrence of slavery, having a sense of honor, not harming the innocent, etc.
oBut then, morality is also a cultural/tribal construct. So in regard to slavery, vampire culture in general not only approves, but also cultivates it. On the other hand, werewolves and a smattering of Other-kin, believe differently.
oSo, to finally answer your question: are they outright evil? No. Can they choose through their actions to be evil? Yes. I enjoy playing with those shades of grey, but the reader will have their own opinions. For me, the evil may be nuanced, but for them, evil is evil is evil. That’s what makes this so much fun!
· How does magic play into your faith and religious studies?
oI’m fascinated by it, but I’m only peripherally interested, which is why I haven’t studied it at any depth. It’s also why I like the “instant” magic in video games and TV.
Ø Do you consider magic to be an element of the occult or part of a Pagan view of the world, and if so, how do you reconcile your fascination with them where your faith is concerned? The reason I ask this is because some people have claimed the wizardry in HARRY POTTER under-minds Christianity, but they don’t think THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS do. Do you face any such conundrums?
ü I consider it either/or, depending upon the beliefs of the practitioner. There’s no need for reconciliation because there’s no reason they can’t co-exist. My believing one thing and their believing another doesn’t negate either. They’re just different.
ü I admit to not understanding why the wizardry in HP undermines Christianity, while the wizardry in LOTR doesn’t. On the surface, there seems to be obvious parallels between Gandalf and Dumbledore, so why one is good and the other bad, I don’t know. Could it be Tolkien’s relationship with C.S. Lewis that gives LOTR its credibility? I admit I haven’t looked at the argument with any depth in order to be able to understand the viewpoints.
Ø I find the more I learn about different faiths, the more I find parallels between them and the less different they become. Has this been true for you?
ü Absolutely! It’s something I believe strongly in – there is common ground, all we have to do is look for it. Of course that belief is reflected in Coming Darkness.
6. What can we expect to see from you over the coming year?
I’m currently wrestling with the next installment in the Coming Darkness series. Kai is dealing with the aftermath of being gravely wounded, which not only left him physically diminished, but struggling with his conflicted feelings for Lucifer. The newly enslaved Roberta is having an adventure and will be thrust into the front lines of the fight against the Darkness. I’m thinking about setting the stage for a romance for her (one or multiple), but her paramour(s) may be surprising. Lucifer is navigating his way through Hell for the first time, searching for his Father. Along the way, he’ll meet his brothers and sisters who chose Darkness over the Light and who expect him to stay and take his place as their leader. Plus, other characters are vying for attention, so we’ll get to see more of Julian the gorgeous, ancient, opium smoking Leader of the vampire Clan Water, and the vicious, jealous Lugan, Kai’s younger brother and Leader of Clan Air.
Thanks again for talking with us today. It has been fun to pick your brain and to discover the lady behind the book, COMING DARKNESS. I wish you all the best in life – peace and blessings, my friend!
Thank you, Julie! I’ve enjoyed answering such wonderfully thoughtful and insightful questions! Blessings and peace to you and yours, my friend!