I first became aware of Dru Pagliassotti when I had my first short story publication in The Harrow, a monthly online journal for horror and dark fantasy. She’s been the editor at that fine publication for some years. Her name is so distinctive that I recognized it immediately when I saw her first novel, Clockwork Heart, on the shelf in Border’s. The book has been called steampunk, urban fantasy, fantasy romance. By all accounts, it’s hard to classify, but it’s getting good reviews. She’s also one of the editors of two horror anthologies, Fear of the Unknown and Midnight Lullabies.
All that and she’s a university professor.
TH: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you know?
DP: I don’t remember a time in which I *didn’t* want to be a writer. I’ve always loved books, to the point at which my teachers suspected something was wrong with me because I’d rather sit in a corner reading than play with the other kids. …I still do. And I’ve always wanted to write a book of my own.
TH: Can you give a brief arc of your career as a writer/author?
DP: I haven’t published enough for my career to be said to have an “arc.” With any luck, I’m still standing on an upward slope. 😉
If you want a longer answer — although I’ve wanted to publish a novel all my life, I was distracted first by grad school and then by the demands of my new job. It was only after I felt comfortable as a professor that I began to concentrate on getting my fiction published. I’d been editing The Harrow for years, so I put my experience on the other side of the slush pile to work for me. I began receiving a few acceptance letters in 2003, and it’s been slow but steady since then.
TH: What has been the biggest reward, and the biggest tribulation, of your work on The Harrow?
DP: The biggest reward of working on The Harrow comes when a writer emails me and says, “thanks, this is my first publication!” That’s as much of a thrill for me as it is for the writer, I think. I love to think The Harrow is helping writers break into the field. That’s our mission, after all!
The Harrow’s also helped me deal with rejection slips better. You can’t spend years writing rejections and still take them personally. In all the years I worked on fiction, I never sent out a rejection thinking, “this author is a talentless hack!” Rejection’s always about the story, not the person.
The biggest tribulation is how much time it takes. I’m lucky to have a great staff right now that’s taken a lot of the work off my shoulders, but there’s still a lot of time involved in putting out a monthly webzine and the occasional anthology. I regularly wonder if The Harrow is worth it — usually right around the end of the month when the next issue needs to be completed — and so far the answer’s always been “yes.”
TH: Do you have any plans or thoughts to make a print anthology of stories from The Harrow?
DP: We’ve put out two anthologies so far, Fear of the Unknown from Echelon Press and Midnight Lullabies from The Harrow Press. We have plans for a third, but it’s been sidelined until the anthology editor and I can get our acts together. That time thing, you know!
Our anthologies have all been collections of new stories and poems. I don’t think we’ll ever anthologize works we’ve previously published, because they’re available online in The Harrow’s archive.
TH: Have your reached the point at which you realized that you had “made it” as a writer and author? If so, can you describe the milestone or circumstances? Do you recall how that felt?
DP: The popular view of “made it” means becoming a commercial or critical success. From that perspective, no, I haven’t made it. However, at a personal level, yes, I believe I’ve made it — getting a novel published realizes a dream I’ve held since childhood. How many people can say they’ve attained a childhood dream? I’m deeply satisfied and grateful to have reached this point.
TH: What is The Story of Dru? Is it a novel? A short story? A poem? A limerick?
DP: Sometimes I suspect my story is a bad joke. In more optimistic moments I hope it’s a koan — difficult to understand but spiritually useful in the end.
TH: A lot of established writers seem to have a stack of writing somewhere that will never a see the light of day, like the five novels the author had to write before he could get to the good one. Do you have anything like this?
DP: Of course! I have several digital folders of unfinished work and “needs complete overhaul before it can be treated seriously” early stories and novels. However, most of my high-school writing was banged out on an old Smith Corona, and those stacks of slick, erasable paper have long since vanished in the wake of multiple moves, keeping the world safe from my juvenilia.
TH: Of course, most writers want to have bestsellers or make some sort of artistic or literary impact. Is there some unrealized accomplishment that you’re striving for in the near future?
DP: I’d like to write for The Weekly World News.
TH: So do you have plans to put your stamp on the Bat Boy and Baboon Girl mythos in The Weekly World News? What attracts you to what is probably the most lurid of all the tabloids?
DP: How could anyone not love The Weekly World News? Weird facts, strange fiction, and lots of PhotoShop — WWN is what happened to the pulps. And you can pick up a copy with your groceries.
I’m particularly fond of the aliens-in-government stories, although a piece about a hunter who shot an angel sat on my office door for a few days (“I thought it was a bird!”). Have I mentioned that I teach at a religiously affiliated university? I recently read that the alien Bible has just been translated — they follow the teachings of Oprah. I’m confident I could contribute to the WWN’s further investigation of aliens and religion.
TH: What are some of the things that inspire you?
DP: I find travel and new experiences inspirational because they expose me to different ways of life and thought; I enjoy reading detailed social histories for the same reason. It would be all too easy for me to think that my life as a white, middle-class, highly educated American is normal, because I’m in a demographic celebrated as normal by the ubiquitous U.S. media. From a global perspective, however, I’m living a very anomalous lifestyle, and going abroad gives me glimpses of other possibilities and perspectives that find their way into my fiction.
I also appreciate reading about and talking to people who are pursuing creative, meaningful lives doing what they love, especially the ones who are coloring outside the lines. They challenge our cultural messages of what we “should” do or be, and they show us alternative ways of making a living and defining success. I think that’s inspiring, but it’s also a little intimidating.
TH: Ray Bradbury recommends feeding one’s Muse with a plethora of life experience, and travel or living abroad is certainly included among those most powerful of life experiences. Do you find that your travel experiences show up in your fiction?
DP: In subtle ways, yes — settings, smells, clothing, weather. And I suspect my love for travel comes through in Taya’s character in Clockwork Heart. More directly, I’ve been reading a lot about India this last year, and another prof and I took a class of students there for three weeks in January. As a result, I’ve been toying with a fantasy novel that draws on various regions of India as its background culture. Most fantasies are set in quasi-European cultures, but I enjoy fantasies that explore other settings, so I’d like to try one, myself. We’ll see….
TH: Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
DP: What an unfortunate brand name: Pagliassotti. Hard to spell and hard to pronounce. I’m sure a marketing expert would advise me to change my name to the single word “Dru,” so readers would have some hope of remembering it when they’re in the bookstore….
To be honest, I don’t like the branding/business approach to life. It’s an offshoot of our cultural obsession with money and consumerism, and as an advocate of voluntary simplicity, I find myself in a constant struggle to resist that mindset. If I were to speak as an academic, I’d now lapse into dire warnings about subject positions, media messages, and the ideological naturalization of consumerism. Suffice to say that while I understand the reasoning behind that approach, I find it distasteful.
TH: What are the most successful ways you have used to promote yourself and your work? Are there any promising marketing avenues that you might yet explore?
DP: I’m an introvert, so I’m not very good at marketing. However, I enjoy writing and have experience with regular columns (I used to be the guide to roleplaying games for About.Com), so when Clockwork Heart was accepted, I bowed to the inevitable and set up the finger-tangling DruPagliassotti.Com as my official blog. I write about whatever’s on my mind or happens to catch my eye. Lately I’ve been posting a lot about voluntary simplicity and anti-consumerism. Hey, maybe my “brand” will end up being resistance to branding….
Three teams of multimedia students at California Lutheran University created book promotion videos for Clockwork Heart, which I think is utterly fantastic. The videos aren’t online yet, but they will be, and I hope they’ll interest more readers in my book.
I’ve reluctantly arranged my first book signing at Borders in Thousand Oaks on June 7. I’m not convinced that book signings are great marketing strategies, especially for new writers, but I figure it’s a sort of rite of passage I’m obliged to go through. 🙂
But when it comes right down to it, I expect most casual readers buy a new book because they read a review about it, heard a friend recommend it, or are attracted by its cover and description. Juno Books sent out dozens of copies of Clockwork Heart to reviewers, and those reviews have helped spread my novel’s title across the web. Readers who comment they enjoyed the book or who tell their friends about it have also been a great marketing help. And finally, forget that old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” — everyone does. So I’m grateful that artist Timothy Lantz created such an incredible cover for Clockwork Heart. Everyone comments on it, and I’m sure it’s prompted all sorts of bookstore patrons to pause and pick up the book. Design is part of marketing, too!
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
DP: At the moment I’m working on a novel that’s grittier and gorier than Clockwork Heart. It’s a dark political fantasy about a city in the throes of a bloody revolution, and it features necromancers, ghouls, executions, riots, conspiracy, and murder. All three viewpoint characters are torn between the demands of duty and their personal beliefs, and they all find themselves in way over their heads. Right now I’m struggling my way through the final chapters … the end of a story is the hardest part to write. You need to wrap everything up in a way that’s both logical and satisfying, and that’s not always easy.