Author Spotlight: ALICIA ZALOGA and WENDY TRIMBOLI
Alicia Zaloga grew up in Virginia Beach not liking the beach, and now moves every few years, sometimes to places near beaches. She has a writing degree from Columbia College Chicago, and when she’s not dealing with life’s chores, she collects hobbies: plucking the E string on the bass, producing an alarming number of artistic doodles, and French beading floral bouquets.
Wendy Trimboli grew up in England, Germany and the United States. Determined to ignore her preference for liberal arts, she attended the US Air Force Academy then worked as an intelligence officer, which was less exciting than it sounds. These days she has a creative writing MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and lives in Colorado with her family, border collie, and far too many books.
Their debut novel, The Resurrectionist of Caligo (Angry Robot 2019), is the result of two writers with very different interests drinking coffee together, then co-authoring a book.
Welcome to the Hive, Alicia and Wendy. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
Alicia: I recently finished Caitlin Starling’s The Luminous Dead (full disclosure, we share an agent) and it deserves all the hype and then some. I loved the claustrophobic nature of the story, how amazingly woven the main characters are without ever sharing the same physical space, and the strong story line revolving around issues of control and feelings of abandonment. That it all takes place in an inventive science fiction setting makes it the perfect, compact and delicious, treat.
Wendy: I’m a sucker for books that are offbeat and emotional. Fellow Angry Robot author Tyler Hayes slayed me with his weird-and-wonderful novel The Imaginary Corpse, which follows dinosaur detective Tippy, a child’s discarded imaginary friend who solves murders in the Stillreal. It’s a book that must be experienced first-hand—a brief summary fails to convey how this strange setup works to be both mature and sweet.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
Alicia: I shall be the cleric with a mace and shield, based solely off my childhood crush on the Larry Elmore drawing of said character in the original red D&D basic set, except as happens when you’re suddenly warped into such a setting (see: KonoSuba) it’ll go terrifically askew for me, my shield no doubt is actually a cheese wheel and my mace turns out to be sentient and bent on getting me murdered by that giant rat who, for reasons, is incredibly focused on attacking me.
Wendy: Well, when I met Alicia during a Pathfinder campaign, I was playing an oracle named Myrk inhabited against his will by an evil goddess. She always wanted him to kill things, but he was charming(ish) and mild-mannered enough to talk her out of most senseless violence. Since he was constantly hallucinating monsters he tended to keep his observations to himself, but could throw an epic fireball. Probably best *not* to let him lead the party, however…
When you’re not bumbling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?) Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
Alicia: It depends on what element I’m working on. Often I like to edit in silence. If I’m listening to music, I tend to pick instrumentals with some repetitive element in an attempt to put me into a hypnotic, channelling the creative ether trance.
Wendy: I don’t have a set method for writing that works every time, but I do try to write first thing in the morning, with coffee, before anyone else is awake. I also block distracting social media during writing time, and that helps too. Sometimes I use music to quickly get myself into the right emotional place for a specific scene, sometimes silence is best. Mainly I try to read a LOT (I especially love weird, morbid history), and let all that raw material ferment over time into something strange and new.
What (or who) are your most significant fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
Alicia: I tend to peck around when it comes to influences. I’m just as likely to be inspired by an anime as I am a Catherynne M. Valente novel, Six of Crows, or the latest revenge tale. That said, I’d love to work with a graphic artist to create a choose-your-own adventure visual novel.
Wendy: I’ve always been an eclectic reader, and tend to gravitate towards dark, atmospheric, historical subjects and doomed characters—fantasy or not. Some books that have stayed with me are Perfume by Patrick Süskind, Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake, and Krabat by Ottfried Preußler. I also appreciate Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series for so deftly juggling humor, big emotions and engaging characters, all while subverting the reader’s expectations.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
Alicia: Fudging slightly to gush about two shows I’m currently watching: Korean dramas Justice and Watcher. First, they are both gorgeously shot. I’m not a connoisseur of cinematography but I can still appreciate lovely lighting and interesting angles. Second, they both feature one of my favourite types of characters—duplicitously gray. Good? Bad? Can I trust them? Who knows? I won’t until the finales.
Wendy: I recently started watching Fleabag because social media couldn’t shut up about it, and now I know why. The adult themes aren’t for everyone, but I’m a sucker for dark British humor and dysfunctional relationships. Peepshow is another personal favorite.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
Alicia: I know it’s a bit simple, but I’d just want to be around people I love, doing whatever.
Wendy: I’d grab my backpack and my dog, and head into the mountains for a day hiking trails, preferably one with great views or waterfalls. The sound of water pouring over rocks, and light filtering through a stand of aspen trees, is incredibly calming. If I’m not making progress on a story, getting into nature and away from internet distractions can sometimes be better for productivity than forcing myself through a block.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
Alicia: My solo side project is a space adventure that traverses different planets and has a fun cast of characters including an android pilot, cyborg assassin, and alien pop singer. There’s love lines, and found family lines, and I’m running out of money so I really just need to finish this job lines. It’s campy and heartfelt.
Wendy: Right now I’m working on an odd little story about a put-upon astronaut being stalked by an otherworldly cat, and hopefully I can stick the landing. I’m also casting about for my next historical research obsession, which may or may not involve phantasmagoria and lady pugilists. It’s hard for me to talk about works in progress because they often turn into completely different things by the time—or if—they make it out into the world.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Alicia: The most helpful, and perhaps most obvious, is to read—both in your genre and out. I’d also add read debuts. It’s easy to get into the habit of picking up older, trusted authors (and they’re great), but seeing what your contemporaries are doing with story is so satisfying and inspirational. There are so many fresh voices that will push you to be better.
Wendy: Find an idea that obsesses you enough to want to spend years working on it.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
Alicia: Coffee. Any kind, from wherever, and as much as is needed to get on with it.
Wendy: When low motivation strikes, procrastination can kill progress. I find that getting up extra early (preferably when it’s still dark), making coffee, putting on headphones, and killing internet distractions (I use the Freedom app) are all crucial steps to just sitting down. Even if I’m not feeling focused, I can usually bang out a sentence or two. And usually that leads to another sentence. I tell myself I’ll be happy with any words, and I almost always end up with more than anticipated. If I’m feeling really stuck, I pull out my notebook and handwrite “garbage”. Handwritten scribbles feel less permanent than typed words, and it takes perfectionist pressure off, knowing I’ll have to retype it anyway before anyone else can even read it.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Alicia: Consummate cheater over here. I want to go to Tokyo, Japan in the future. After all, the future will be history eventually. I want to see that things turn out okay, that the future is so much more delightful and weirder than we imagined. Surely all our dystopian fiction has prepared us for a brighter outcome. Plus if Tokyo has Butler Cafés, amazing sushi, and Robot Restaurants now, I suspect the restaurant scene of the future will exceed my expectations and imaginations.
Wendy: There are so many places/times I would love to visit, it’s hard to choose just one. I did a lot of research into the history of medicine for The Resurrectionist of Caligo, and would love to haunt the streets of 1820s Edinburgh for a day or two, notebook in hand—for science!
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Alicia: Anime Supremacy! by Mizuki Tsujimura. I picked it up on a whim and loved the slice of life depiction of three women in different fields connected to the anime industry. There’s a tranquil, this is day-to-day life as a worker, quality to it that is just really soothing and special.
Wendy: One of my favorite books growing up was Krabat by the German author Otfried Preußler. This gorgeous, dark (allegedly) children’s novel about a magician’s school set in 17th century Germany was the first book to really rock my world. A miller’s apprentice learns black magic and how to turn into a raven, falls in love with a village girl, and oh yeah, must break a devilish pact involving human sacrifice. A teacher at my German elementary school read it to my class of ten-year-olds, and I still treasure the copy he gave me as a farewell gift. The woodcut illustrations are stunning, too! Though English translations exist, it remains virtually unknown outside Germany.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
An enlightened bodysnatcher and a rebellious princess must set aside their differences, navigating both science and sorcery to catch a killer who could tear their country apart. It’s a fantasy noir with a gothic Victorian-ish setting and some humorous bits, too. Come for the cemeteries and palace intrigue, stay for the ink-magic and a particularly ferocious waif.
Brilliant! Thanks again for joining us, guys, and good luck with Resurrectionist‘s release!
Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga are the authors of THE RESURRECTIONIST OF CALIGO,
out on September 10th 2019.