Musa Author Interview: Paul Stansfield

Today I’m pleased to introduce Paul Stansfield, author of Dead Reckoning.

1. Can you tell us a little about your book, “Dead Reckoning”?

Many horror/suspense stories revolve around good versus evil battles, and many times the good characters tend to be kind of saintly, and the evil ones utterly and completely bad. I thought it might be interesting to have the same vicious fight, but between average, decent yet flawed characters. Some of the characters do terrible, murderous things to each other, but they do so with good reasons. I think most people, being in their situation, would react in a similar way.

2. When did you first realize that you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?

I always dreamed of writing, even going back to when I was a ten year old kid writing stories inspired by Legos and Star Wars. But in my mid-twenties I finally stopped the idle dreaming and started to write more determinedly, and most importantly, started to send out my stories to magazines and publishers. Plus, of course, my dream hasn’t been fully realized, as I don’t write as a full time job. But hopefully “Dead Reckoning” is a foot in the door, so to speak, and I’ll build from there.

3. How did you plan “Dead Reckoning”?

I came up with the basic storyline in one burst, and then filled in the details as they occurred to me, or as I kept writing it. I also used an outline for this book, along with my usual compulsive notes. I had more characters in “Dead Reckoning” than I usually do, so it was sometimes difficult to remember which zombie actor was doing what, or which campers were already killed, etc.

4. What do you do when you get stuck on a writing project?

I find a good hour long walk really helps me when I’m stuck. Doing some activity where one’s mind can (and always does) wander allows me to think better. The only tricky thing is trying to remember all the ideas I think are good until I get back home. Sometimes a long drive serves the same purpose.

5. Can you tell us a bit about your editing process?

The use of Luddites in my story wasn’t just a coincidence—I do have some of their tendencies. For example, I can only write with pen and paper. Then, when I’m finished, I type it in using the computer, and at this point I make any changes I think the story needs. So my original is basically the rough draft, with the typical cross-outs, sentences and paragraphs in the margins, etc.

6. Which part of the writing process is most difficult for you and how do you make it easier on yourself?

Having the discipline to write consistently. There are always distractions, or I’m tired from work, or I’m just not in the mood. For my longest novel (still unpublished), I set up a quota of one page, or about 500 words, a day, and managed to keep to it. Alas, I’m not always this consistent.

7. What are three things you think have been instrumental to your success?

The first would be discipline. I could clearly improve drastically on this, but on the other hand, I have managed to write dozens of short stories, and several novellas and novels. The second would be having a thick enough skin. I know people who like to write, but are unwilling to put it out there, to submit their stories. No one likes rejection, but you have to get used to it in this field, and you can’t let it discourage you. The third would simply be a sometimes obsessive need to write. I kind of have a love/hate relationship with it, but I find I actively want to write. Long periods of inactivity leave me feeling antsy and pent up.

8. What are three things you wish you hadn’t done when starting out as a writer?

I wish I’d gotten off my ass and started getting serious at a younger age, and put in more work at it, started submitting earlier, etc. Secondly, I wish I hadn’t been so slow to embrace computers and the internet—it would have saved me a lot of time, and postage. (And as I stated, I’m still fighting this tendency. But I need to take baby steps.) Third, I wish I hadn’t fallen for a scam literary agent’s pitch. At the time there weren’t as many resources on avoiding these (like WriterBeware, Piers Anthony’s site, and others) but I still should have been better educated and suspicious. That naivety cost me some money and was quite embarrassing.

9. What piece of advice do you think is most important for aspiring writers to remember?

I don’t have anything profound or new. I suppose the writing advice clichés are clichés because they’re so true. I would advise prospective writers to simply keep at it. See projects through, and keep sending ‘em out. If one publisher/magazine rejects it, send it to another, until you’ve gone through every one. And if a single piece gets rejected by them all, write another, and another. As for criticism, if one or two readers suggest changes that you don’t agree with, you can probably disregard them. If five or ten all suggest the same alteration, it’s probably reasonable criticism—try to follow it and edit your story in that way if you can. For more practical advice, I find The Writer’s Market, and The Writer’s Market for Short Story and Novel Writers to have good writing advice as well as lots of names and addresses of magazines, publishers, and agents.

10. What are you working on next that readers can look forward to?

Among Musa’s nice features is its willingness to publish pieces of varying lengths, from short stories to novellas to novels. Since I have a backlog of all of these hopefully some will see the light of day soon. As for new projects, I need to get back to a potential novella/novel about the family of a suspected killer. And it’s probably obvious, but “Dead Reckoning” won’t have a sequel.

Bio: Paul Stansfield was born and raised in New Jersey. He graduated from Rutgers University with a major in anthropology and works as a field archaeologist. He’s also had short stories published by Bibliophilos, Mausoleum, Ragshock, Mobius, Morbid Curiosity, Generation X National Journal, Cthulhu Sex Magazine, Aoife’s Kiss, and Conceit Magazine.

You can buy a copy of Dead Reckoning here.