Issue 050 Author Interview: Elou Carroll and “Tatterdemalion”

Welcome, dear readers, to our Issue 050 author interviews! We have Elou Carroll here starting us off with some insightful answers about her story “Tatterdemalion, or of Apple Bough and Straw.”

LSQ: The beginning of this story is set up so beautifully, giving readers a taste of the fairy tale to come. What did your process for writing this excellent intro look like?
Elou: “Tatterdemalion” was originally written during the first round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge last year—I really enjoy entering these challenges because they force you to write stories you otherwise might not have ever thought of due to the prompts they assign, and they help to fill up your story cache as only the overall winning story is ever published as part of the competition. I hit the jackpot with this particular challenge because I adore writing fairy tales. My prompts were: a fairy tale with the subject of exhaustion, containing an animal lover. So when I started, I had these things nestling in my mind and carving out their shape.
I’m a pantser—planning is a kind of magic that I have access to but no skill in casting. When I try to plan I either never finish the story or the plan just turns into me writing the story. Luckily, fairy tales lend themselves really well to this kind of sprawling discovery writing. The intro definitely began its life as a way for me to discover what shape the story should take. Fairy tale intros have to do a lot of work; if you look at many old tales, the first couple of paragraphs usually set up the entire world and its history in quick time in a way that other genres don’t, so I was really conscious of this while I was writing. I wanted the set-up to feel as magical as the rest of the story. There was a lot of writing and deleting before I found the balance between being pretty, plaintive, and wonder filled while also recounting the ‘events up until now’.
LSQ: I have an interest in fae creatures, but I’ve never heard of a wiswoad! Did you make this creature up, or does it have real-world influences?
Elou: The wiswoad is my own creation and I love it very much! I wanted a wish creature but I didn’t want to have to rely on existing parameters like having to catch it to earn the wish (and making up fae creatures is one of my favorite things to do!). I had in mind grumpy impish creatures like Rumpelstiltskin and Tom-Tit-Tot and Whuppity Stoorie, and the idea of wishes being not all they’re cracked up to be, and from that came the idea of a crotchety little creature that will teach you how to craft a wish in exchange for a gift.
‘Wis’ is from ‘wish’ and ‘woad’ is from both ‘wode’ (an archaic word for mad or wild) and ‘toad’. The wiswoad was originally more green and toadish, but then it grew a long nose and a purple hat and became something quite different. I wanted a name which you could imagine a crow saying too.
(Did I try to caw it when coming up with the name? Absolutely. Have I done it again just now? Also, yes.)
LSQ: Your descriptions are so lush and effective! What is your advice for writers when crafting descriptions that not only read well, but serve to move the story forward?
Elou: Oh gosh. Thank you! Descriptions have always been a guilty pleasure of mine both in reading and writing. There are very few things more satisfying than seeing an image land. Particularly an image that you’ve never read before. The best stories I’ve read almost always have some unexpected imagery in them that stays with me long after I finish.
When you’re writing, it’s important, I think, to think about why you’re including a piece of description. With short stories especially, every image has to earn its place—when you’re working with word count limitations, there just isn’t room for surplus description, no matter how lovely it is. It can’t just be set-dressing, for example. It has to be set-dressing ‘and’. Set-dressing and revealing something about your character. Set-dressing and establishing tone. Set-dressing and moving a scene forward or establishing a timeline. Once you’ve been thinking about your imagery in that way for a while, it becomes a habit.
I’m a big advocate of specificity in all things, and eschewing abstracts wherever possible (or at least using them with intent when you do use them). The example I usually give is “Why tell us someone is lonely when you can tell us instead about the one remaining leaf on the crooked tree in their front garden?” If you tell us about the tree, we’ve established the loneliness, the season, potentially some character description if the tree’s appearance mirrors the character’s, and a small part of the setting—being specific allows you to create a much deeper picture for the reader and moves the story along in likely much fewer words than if you were trying to do all of those things separately. To twist a cliché a little: a picture paints a thousand words, and imagery can save them.
(It’s worth pointing out that, sometimes, using the abstract is more economical and therefore necessary, so you have to take the above with a pinch of salt. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to writing, I’ve found.)
With all that in mind, I only have one other tip: have fun. If you’re enjoying yourself, the reader will notice.
LSQ: Are you working on any other writing projects at the moment? If so, can you tell us a bit about them?
Elou: I like to call my writing process “Chaos Mode” because not only do I not write in chronological order a lot of the time but I’m also working on about a million things at once at any one time. At the time of writing, I have open on my computer: a novel draft, three short stories, and a document full of micro fiction. (In reality, I’ve only written in one of the short story docs and the micro fiction document today but I opened them all with the intent to work on them.)
I have a lot of projects at various levels of completion, and they include some of the following:
– the first quarter, maybe, of a novel in the shape of a gothic fairy tale retelling,
– a short, quiet horror story about a beleaguered estate agent attempting to sell a house that is only ever visible in snatches,
– the second-third-fourth (ish, I often edit as I go) draft of a novel featuring ghosts, witches, mysterious disappearances and a woman who is only sometimes dead,
– the vague beginnings of a story about a space ghost,
– and so many, many more.
It’s a wonder I finish anything but it seems to be working fairly well for me so far. Long may it continue! (I am keeping all of my extremities crossed.)

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