An Interview with Deborah Sheldon

Deborah Sheldon’s new collection, Liminal Spaces, is now available, and I’ve interviewed her to the mark the occasion. You can also read my five-star review on Goodreads.

Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed, Deborah. The most important question first of all – what’s your favourite writing snack or drink?

While writing, I favour sparkling chardonnay pinot noir. While editing, black unsweetened tea. Oh yes, I’m a fan of Hemingway, all right – in more ways than one.

How do you celebrate when you finish your book?

My husband and son took me out to dinner when I finished my collection Liminal Spaces: Horror Stories. Every time I finish a book, my celebrations centre around food. If not at a restaurant, then at home with a special meal such as lobster bisque, or a treat like a layered cake with fancy piped icing. Actually, I celebrate every event with food. Christmas, Easter, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, career successes, whatever – you’ll find me in the kitchen trying to whip up something tasty to mark the occasion.

What is your kryptonite as a writer?

Boredom. Over the 36 years of my professional career, I’ve found that feeling “safe” is the fastest way to kill my enthusiasm. I need the anxiety of the unfamiliar. How thrilling to face down a new writing medium and have no idea if I’m capable of doing it! Uncertainty and challenge seem to jump-start my creative brain.

What risks have you taken with your writing that have paid off?

All of them. Back in 1986, while at university, I began my career as a feature writer for magazines. Then I moved to TV script-writing. After that, to medical writing and non-fiction books. Followed by fiction and horror writing. And now I’m dipping my toe into the untested waters of poetry. It’s like refreshing myself as a writer every time I experiment with a new medium. Whether or not the risk pays off professionally doesn’t negate the personal benefit.

When was the last time you Googled yourself and what did you find?

The last time I Googled myself I found a book review, and promptly shared it on social media, my website, and newsletter. Actually, I Google myself every month or so. I cultivated this habit when I stumbled across a book review some two years after it had been published! Which, yeah, felt way too late.

Are you active on social media? How do you use it?

I’m on social media, yes, but not in a participatory sense. For example, someone else runs my Facebook author page, and while I’m a member of Goodreads I don’t belong to any groups or interact in any significant way. I’m in poor health, so fatigue and chronic pain force me to be miserly with how I spend my time. While I’d love to muck in with horror writers on Facebook, Goodreads and other sites, and network and attend conferences and so on, the reality is I don’t have the physical capacity. My concern is that people in the industry might dismiss me as snobby or standoffish, but the truth is, I’m unwell.

What’s the trickiest thing about writing characters of the opposite gender?

My whole life long, I’ve believed that humans are essentially the same regardless of sex, race, religion or era. A person from 3000 years ago would understand my fears, joys and concerns as if I were their contemporary. I must admit, however, that I’ve never been a “girly” girl. I don’t wear earrings, eyeshadow or perfume, have no interest in fashion, own three pairs of shoes and one handbag, and I’m typing this interview wearing an old t-shirt and my husband’s tracksuit pants. Perhaps my lack of interest in stereotypical “feminine” pursuits helps me write male characters that feel authentic.

Have pets ever gotten in the way of your writing?

On the contrary! For the past decade, I’ve had a budgerigar in my study to keep me company while I write. Our first budgie was Atlas and now we have Zeus, who is gutsing seeds and watermelon even as I type. I’ve got into the habit of discussing my writing issues with our birds. Often, I read out my drafts. Zeus is an attentive listener. His feedback includes wise nods, whistles, chattering, and occasional flurries of cursing that he’s picked up from me. (Fun fact: Zeus inspired one of my best-loved characters, the police dog in Thylacines.)

Animals – particularly birds – play an important and generally terrifying role in your fiction. Why?

I wrote the stories in Liminal Spaces over the years 2017 to 2021, sprinkled between longer-form projects including my bio-horror novella Thylacines, zombie novel Body Farm Z, bigfoot novella Man-Beast, and the anthologies Midnight Echo 14 and Spawn: Weird Horror Tales About Pregnancy, Birth and Babies. It wasn’t until I was compiling the collection and laying out my TOC that I noticed – with surprise – how many of my stories involved birds! No, this wasn’t a deliberate symbolic device. I honestly did not realise. Some people call themselves dog- or cat-people, and I guess I’m a bird-person. Birds have a fascinating duality about them. Beautiful, friendly and playful Australian varieties like budgerigars and lorikeets can remind you of their dinosaur genes every time you look at their claws and the scaly rings about their eyes.

Your fiction is rich in Australian lingo and traits, and that’s bloody awesome! Is this a conscious decision or just natural for you?

Yes, it’s very much a conscious decision. What I’ve always admired about storytellers from the United States – across prose fiction to films to TV – is their love of writing US-centric stories filled with US locations, characters and language. So, I’m a flag-waver for Australian locations, characters and language. Not for me the generic “set anywhere” type of story. I don’t like that as a reader, and I won’t do it as a writer. That’s why my first anthology with IFWG was open to submissions only from Australian citizens, residents and ex-pats – and why my second anthology (with the same press) will do the same. One’s culture deserves to be celebrated: I’m not a fan of “cultural cringe”. 

Thanks, Deborah. 

You can buy a copy of Liminal Spaces on Amazon or through IFWG Australia

Published by camerontrost

Cameron Trost is an author of mystery and suspense fiction best known for his puzzles featuring Oscar Tremont, Investigator of the Strange and Inexplicable. He has published two novels, "Letterbox" and "The Tunnel Runner", and three collections, "Oscar Tremont, Investigator of the Strange and Inexplicable", "Hoffman's Creeper and Other Disturbing Tales", and "The Animal Inside". He runs the independent press, Black Beacon Books, and is a lifetime member of the Australian Crime Writers Association. Originally from Brisbane, Australia, Cameron lives with his wife and two sons near Guérande in southern Brittany, between the rugged coast and treacherous marshlands.

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