Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Author Interview ~ Holly Gonzalez

My regular readers will remember my recent jump into Wattpad.

I have a Recommended Reads! list over there and the author in our interview today was one of the first I added to that list.

Let’s find out more about her… Holly Gonzalez - Author


When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer, Holly?

It was a very early age, not sure exactly how old I was, but my mom says I was never without a book growing up. I’ve been an avid reader my entire life, and when I discovered I could put words together and make ideas and worlds come alive, I was hooked. When I was eight, I wrote a Halloween story for a school writing contest, called The Mystery Of The Sneaky Cat. It won first place, and earned me a bucket full of candy as well as a ribbon. I’d have to say that was the first time I made up my mind to take up the pen. I spent much of my childhood writing and illustrating books about the magical kingdoms I invented for my herd of toy horses, and in my teens it evolved into poetry and romantic fantasy novels—which were pretty cringe-worthy, but I wrote anyway. Writing is more of a compulsion for me now than a pastime. Strangely enough, I didn’t start seriously writing until the summer of 2014. This was the time I decided to buckle down and start writing things I could actually publish, rather than just toying with ideas as a hobby. I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go, and my family is well used to me jotting down ideas at odd moments. My husband is a musician and artist, so he understands. He’s been an excellent soundboard for me, not afraid to tell me when something stinks, and supporting me when I need to lock the door and bang my head against the desk in agony. I’m very lucky to have a life partner who knows what it’s like to surrender to the creative process.

You’ve described yourself as a writer of speculative fiction, poetry, and children’s books, as well as a visual artist. What does all that involve?

I like the term speculative fiction because I write cross-genre, and it sums everything into one. Most of my current work is science fiction, which admittedly is my favorite genre to work in. However, I also delve into fantasy and horror. My trilogy in progress, Red Butterflies, is a dark fantasy/weird western series with strong elements of horror, and tons of historical detail. I do still write poetry, though it’s more of a therapeutic way to work out my emotions. I’ve written numerous children’s stories over the years, and usually illustrate them myself. I have a fairy tale in the works, titled The Princess Of The Cats, and will be doing the artwork for it at some point next year. As a visual artist, I enjoy painting in watercolor, acrylics, and oil, as well as drawing in pencil, charcoal, and ink. Drawing my characters and settings has always been fun, as well as a great way of developing ideas.

What best characterizes your writing, in general, and what’s your creative routine? Children of The War

Overall I just like to write stories which will entertain readers, and hopefully touch people at a deep emotional level. The books I love to read tend to have dynamic characters who must struggle against incredible odds to accomplish their goals. I also adore vivid settings and beautiful prose, words used in such a way as to instantly paint a grandiose picture in my head. I’ve tried to emulate these concepts in my own work, though it’s always a struggle to achieve a good balance. As far as my routine goes, I have a personal goal to write a thousand words a day. I don’t always make that count, but it’s been extremely helpful in motivating me, even on days when I want to burn all of my work to ash and give up as a worthless hack.  Every day, no matter what, it’s butt in the chair, fingers to keys, and random tapping noises occur. Sometimes I make beautiful things out of it, other days I just save things to my drafts folder and fight the urge to hit the delete key. The point is that I stick to it daily, even if I have to scrawl things by hand. I have really bad handwriting, by the way. Thank the gods for word processors and spell check.

How do you find your inspiration?

Many of my ideas are taken from real events—news and the situations I see in my own life, and of those around me. I’m an introvert, so I don’t always engage strangers directly, but I’m an avid people-watcher, and always eavesdropping on conversations. I’m also a big fan of immersive character creation, using method acting and roleplay to get into my character’s heads. I have full conversations while in character, and some amazing insights often come out of putting myself in their shoes. I get very emotionally attached to my story people, and will often project their persona over my own as I walk down the street, ride the bus, and shop, asking myself what the character would notice most, their thoughts, and so forth. My husband has walked in to find me in tears after I’ve killed someone in a story, or after a heartbreaking revelation. If I can’t feel what the character feels, I’ll pick away at them until they crack and start talking to me. Some are harder to get into than others, but they can be relentless when I finally figure them out. A few have even woken me from a dead sleep or come in dreams to reveal information. One of my most mysterious protagonists, Ling Fu, is notorious for this. I also use music extensively in my creative process. Some songs and artists have inspired entire plot arcs and characters. I have special playlists I listen to for each story. My novel, Ruby Descent, demands a mix of electro-swing and classic jazz from the 1920s and 30s. Another example is the heroine of my Red Butterflies trilogy, who reached a new level of development after I discovered Abigail Washburne and her Mandarin bluegrass tune, Song Of The Travelling Daughter. The lyrics of this song sum up Ling Fu’s character arc perfectly. I’ve also studied live performers for inspiration, and sometimes with surprising results. When I was developing the character of Lily Fairpoole, the brilliant technician and jazz singer from Ruby Descent, I studied live recordings and video of the beautiful and talented electro-swing performer, Alice Francis, as well as vintage footage of the famous flapper, Josephine Baker. I listed these two on Lily’s character profile on my website, as I’ve done for all of the characters in the series. Miss Francis eventually contacted me through Facebook, and we exchanged creative goodies and virtual high fives. She said she was surprised and flattered that I’d chosen her as an inspiration for Lily. I was equally flattered that she even noticed, as I’m a huge fan of hers. Social media is amazing.

Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’?

I’m a pantser during first drafts, though I always write out a sparse story arc with plot points that need to be met. Usually I jump ahead and write the last chapter or scenes as well, to give a sense of direction. I loathe outlines, and my characters always break them anyway. I do always write out extensive character sheets, and will often ‘interview’ my major characters to get a good feel for them. I really love the program Scrivener, as it allows me to break things down well, and to keep my research and notes visible as I write. Over the years I’ve also found my Tarot cards to be a fascinating and reliable source of ideas. I’m writing a book on Wattpad about using the Tarot as a storytelling tool, and have gotten great response so far.

So, Holly, what writers and books have had the biggest impact on you and your work?

I have far too many favorites, but there are several who I count as life-changers. My first major influence was Edgar Allen Poe. When I discovered his work I was about ten. We read The Tell-Tale Heart in class, and I was hooked. Supernatural and deeply poetic themes have always been some of my favorites. One of my favorite science fiction authors is David Zindell, and his Requiem For Homo Sapiens series. These books opened my mind to so many possibilities, and also helped me learn how to use words to create vivid pictures and descriptions. I cried many times while reading those books, and would highly recommend them to anyone. Other favorite writers are Frank Herbert, Ursula K. Le Guin, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Peter S. Beagle, H.P. Lovecraft, Dan Simmons, Richard Adams, and as mentioned before, the list goes on.

I feel the need to swerve and ask what your day job is like?

We all have to pay the bills despite our dreams of becoming the next George R. R, Martin, and I’m no exception. I currently work as the phone operator at a historic luxury hotel. It’s been a great inspiration for my current series in the works, a large part of which is set in a 1920s-30s/dieselpunk universe. The main novel takes place around a luxury hotel in space, and my hospitality job provides endless substance for characters, settings, and situations. Some of the wild events in Perfect World Somewhere and Ruby Perfect World SomewhereDescent were taken from actual things I’ve been through on the job. Teenagers pouring vats of concentrated soap down the drains and sudsing up an entire guest floor…yep, it’s no joke. Life is never boring in the hotel business, and my characters know it all too well. They must hate me for it, but it’s my duty to make them squirm and put it on the page.

Where have you been published, and what are your immediate goals?

I’m still working on getting traditionally published. It’s always been my dream to make a viable career out of writing. Currently I’ve self-published a novel, several short stories, and various poetry. I’m also addicted to Wattpad, and have most of my Family Of Earth retrofuture project available to read there. I’ve recently been featured in the Wattpad sci-fi ezine, Tevun Krus, with a dieselpunk pulp short story which was a blast to write. I’ll be writing more stories for TK over the next year. I’ve also recently become involved with the folks at Writerpunk, a sort of guild for writers of the various ‘punk’ sub-genres, and I’ve submitted a decopunk retelling of Poe’s famous poem, Annabel Lee for their upcoming Poe Gets Punked anthology. Overall, my goals for the next year are to finish the revision of Ruby Descent and get it ready to submit to agents and publishers. For the past year, I’ve developed these characters through various side-stories and now it’s time to finish the story of their big showdown aboard the swanky but wild space elevator known as the Ruby lift. I’ll also be tackling the Red Butterflies trilogy, which is undergoing its first revision. These two projects are the babies I want to promote most to traditional publishers, and I hope someone eventually wants to pick up my other works, too. In the meantime, I’m having fun networking with readers and writers online, and constantly developing new ideas and goals.

O.K., that part made me feel a bit exhausted :-) so I have to ask, what are your greatest challenges with writing?

I’ve struggled most with my inner critic. It’s been difficult to shut my editing voice up during the first draft process, and allow my ego to have its way until completion. I’m a perfectionist to a fault. Sometimes I have to disconnect from my work and not get emotional during the editing and critique process, too. It’s also been a challenge to stay focused on one project at a time. I’m great at coming up with ideas, but I have shiny object syndrome, and love to pursue novelty. This has to be curbed if I’m to make a deadline. Sometimes I also suffer from existential crises of hating my work, when everything I try to put down on the screen is crap. Working through these times has taught me a lot about my process, in writing as well as in life overall. To me, writer’s block is like a big ugly piñata. You know there’s goodies in there somewhere, but you have to beat it repeatedly with a stick until your arms ache to break it. It’s all about perseverance when you decide to be a word warrior.

Love the analogies there, Holly… So, your series in progress, The Family Of Earth, is described as ‘retrofuture’ or ‘retropunk’. What is this genre, and how have you adapted the concept to your stories?

Retrofuturism is an artistic concept I stumbled across when I was planning a novel for Nanowrimo 2014. I’ve always liked steampunk, and the way it mixes futuristic elements with Victorian themes and sentiment, but I wanted to try something more unique. I discovered the world of ‘dieselpunk’ soon after, which is very similar to steampunk, but focuses on the early decades of the twentieth century rather than the 1800s. Having always loved the roaring ‘20s and glamorous ‘30s, I chose these time periods, and mixed them with a space opera/dystopian future, where water is more valuable than gold, and humanity has colonized as far out as Mars. This novel has now spawned an entire universe, centered around the idea of delving into the past to create new visions for the future. Retrofuturism has become an ideal and a lifestyle for me now. Even my husband has embraced the concept in his music, and we both classify ourselves as retrofuture artists now.

Which of your stories/characters are your favorites?

It’s a hard choice, but I’d have to say my favorite stories are my ‘decodrama’ in the works, Beauty In TheBeauty In the Bones Bones, and also my Red Butterflies trilogy. These two projects are very experimental, and have forced me to push more limits than I’d imagined at their get-go. Both have also tested every nerve I have as a writer, and I’ve seen my overall writing grow immensely as I take bigger risks with each new chapter. Character-wise, I’d have to say Lily Fairpoole from Perfect World Somewhere and Ruby Descent is one of the most dynamic I’ve created. Her optimism and endurance have actually inspired me as a person. She’s also one of my most outspoken characters, quite the opposite of myself. Another character I love is Fai Peng, the eunuch swordsman and bodyguard from Red Butterflies. He literally stepped out of the sidelines, starting as a minor character, and his personality exploded across the page. He changed the entire story for the better. I love when characters come to life unexpectedly. Currently I’m developing the villain from Ruby Descent, Silas Blane, in my ongoing Wattpad serial, Beauty In The Bones. Silas pushes me into questionable territory, and I often struggle to blend his admirable qualities with his narcissism and ruthless approach. He’s become another favorite of mine due to his sheer unpredictability.

It’s obvious you’re active in the Wattpad community. How did you get involved there—what’s your experience been like? And, what other social media and online groups do you enjoy and/or recommend?

I joined Wattpad in its early days, about four years ago, but I didn’t become active until just this year. It’s been a fantastic way to meet other writers and readers. Everything from critique groups, to forums, to contests, and I’ve met so many awesome people from all over the world. Sure there’s a lot of teenage fiction with swooning vampires and poor grammar, but there are also a lot of amazing authors showcasing their work. It’s a fantastic way to reach people and discover hidden talents. I’ve found I like it most for socializing, and for finding out what readers like about my work. For criticism and reviews I prefer more specialized groups. The Online Writing Workshop for SF, Fantasy & Horror has been an incredible forum, and I’ll be signing up for a monthly subscription there as soon as I get Ruby Descent to a tolerable state for critiques. As far as other social media/sites, I use Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, Smashwords, and Amazon, though I have a love/hate relationship with the latter. Amazon is easy to use, and certainly offers good exposure, but I don’t like the exclusivity they demand. I also have some issues with the way their review system determines things. Big corporations ruling how we work—no thanks. But they do have their uses from time to time.

What encouragement would you give to other writers?

Never give up, and don’t compare yourself to others. Ultimately, our voice must always be our own.

Excellent advice, Holly! And, thanks, so much, for taking the time to introduce us to your writing world :-)


And, here are Holly’s links:
Website & blog

O.K., time to ask Holly a few questions in the Comments :-)
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17 responses to “Author Interview ~ Holly Gonzalez

  1. Jane Watson December 21, 2015 at 11:17 pm

    Great interview, Holly, I really enjoyed reading it. I am curious – who did the illustrations for the book covers shown here?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Author Interview | Holly Gonzalez

  3. dgkaye December 22, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    What a fantastic article! And a talented illustrator as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nicole December 24, 2015 at 12:21 am

    Hi Alex & Holly!
    I really enjoyed this post. Thanks Holly, for sharing so much insight into how and why you write. Your talent as an artist is incredible. I can’t wait to read your writing and find out even more about the inspiring art you create with your words.
    Also, your day job sounds pretty exciting too, and how wonderful it is that you can use it to better your creative work. ☺
    Thank you again for sharing. (TY4theFBonTwitter!♥)

    Happy Holidays.

    Liked by 1 person

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