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Interview with EM WALLING


What led you to submit to RED SKIES?

I initially saw someone post about Red Skies on Twitter and wanted to check out the submission guidelines to see what type of work was desired for the anthology. When I saw "testimony to the year 2020" I was like okay ... I'm writing a collection right now that would so fit that. I immediately submitted poetry after reading that Twitter post. I also like submitting to projects where some of the profit is donated to organizations; that was a huge draw for me when reading through the submission guidelines. What writers and artists have inspired you? This list could go on forever! Reading S.A. Chakraborty's Daevabad trilogy helped launch me back into writing speculative fiction. I loved reading fantasy books as a child and teenager, and then that stopped once I left for college. I didn't have time for reading outside of classes, so I got in this rut of reading required literature for courses and nothing outside of that for fun. And then life got busy, and I lost time for reading. I missed getting lost in fantasy books and wanted a way to escape while working full time and going to grad school at night. Knowing nothing about the book, I bought a copy of The City of Brass (the first book in Chakraborty's trilogy) and fell in love with her characters and the exciting, engaging story. Her writing made me want to read more fantasy and improve my own skills. There are so many fantasy writers that inspire me. Some of my recent favorites include V.E. Schwab, R.F. Kuang, Nnedi Okorafor, and of course S.A. Chakraborty. My favorite poets tend to change throughout the years, but Aimee Nezhukumatathil and Natasha Trethewey have been inspirational poets for me for quite some time now. I also really enjoy Ken Liu's short stories and re-read his writing when I'm stuck on the structure and character development for my own work.

What projects are you currently engaged in? Is there a particular theme to your work? Most of my work includes some sort of environmental theme, like how people have an emotional, psychological, or physical connection with nature. That theme tends to find its way into my poetry, short stories, and longer works. I spend a lot of time outside, at the beach, hiking ... so the images and sounds spark all sorts of inspiration for me. I've been working on multiple projects throughout 2020. One of them is the pandemic poetry collection. My husband and I moved to Australia at the end of December 2019, and then Covid made its way into the news shortly after. Living through the pandemic and going into lockdown for months affected the entire experience. I wanted to find a way to document the experience, either through poetry or maybe a novel, and writing poetry ended up being the best method. I wrote about forty poems so far, which is really exciting! I'm going to start putting the pieces together in early 2021 with the goal of submitting them to small presses later in the year. I worked on a novella this year that I began sending out for submission recently. Although the story is speculative fiction, it's a deeply personal piece about a mother-daughter relationship. The story is rooted in northern Ohio, a region I called home for most of my life so far, and I would love to add more Ohio literature into the world. Beta readers enjoyed the story, so I hope it will find an audience one day; the novella includes a mother-daughter relationship, Midwest landscapes, an earthquake, and out-of-body experiences.

Do you have any goals for the New Year? Is there a particular book you're hoping to start January off with?

Putting together the pandemic poetry collection is one of my biggest goals for the New Year. I'm tossing around ideas on how I want to organize the pieces, such as in chronological order or by themes. After working with a couple of beta readers, I'm hoping to start submitting the collection in mid-late 2021. I also plan to continue submitting my novella to small publishers and querying my fantasy manuscript. 2020 was one of my best writing years in regards to feeling inspired and pumping out content. 2021 will probably be a heavy editing and submitting year. I'll probably start out the year by reading The Burning God by R.F. Kuang because I'm SO excited to read the trilogy conclusion, and the book is finally available in Australia! After seeing some of the non-spoiler reactions, people will probably think I'm crazy for wanting to start the New Year by reading a book that will break me. But that's been the trend with most of the books I read in 2020. I'll get to the happier ones eventually. Is community important to your writing? Are there any magazines or small presses that you feel a strong attachment to?

Community is crucial to my experience as a writer. I have beta readers that I trust to always be honest and filled with constructive criticism for my work, and they are extremely supportive. There are many journals and presses I love. I'm biased here, but I have a strong attachment to Slippery Elm Literary Journal. I started off as a prose reader when I was a grad student, then became the prose editor for a while, and I'm still on staff as an alumna. I appreciate staying involved, and I love the work we publish—not only in the print issue but also from the multimedia contest. There are so many great magazines and presses out there publishing beautiful and crucial work.

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