“The Skin Script”: Author Interview with Stephanie M. Loree

I hope everyone’s new year is off to a great start! Happy Epiphany!

The best stories make us feel as we’re reading them, and then make us think long after we’ve finished. We’re chatting with speculative fiction writer Stephanie M. Lorée, author of the newly-released story “The Skin Script” (details below). It was a great pleasure to meet Stephanie in person at World Fantasy in San Diego, and I’m very grateful that she’s agreed to spend a few minutes with us here in “the bloglight”! Her powerful and moving story kept me on the edge of my seat, and it’s my great pleasure to celebrate it on this blog and make more readers aware of this rising star on the fantasy landscape!

Stephanie reviews books and hosts giveaways on her blog (go to stephaniemloree.com), and she co-hosts the blog-challenge of
Write1Sub1 (www.write1sub1.com) with a handful of other great short
story authors.

Here is her OFFICIAL BIO:

Born and stuck in Ohio, Stephanie received her BS in Criminal Justice and works in a cubicle for The Man. She writes speculative fiction and moonlights as a vocalist/pianist. Though she prefers money, Stephanie will work for dark chocolate. Her stories have featured psychic tattoos, talking swords, zombie robots, or Things Which Cannot Be Said. You know, love sonnets. A SuperNerd who loves gaming, technology, good sushi, and bad kung fu flicks, Stephanie’s digital life is available for stalking at stephaniemloree.com.

ON THE STORY: “The Skin Script” is Stephanie’s first professional
publication, appearing in the anthology An Honest Lie Vol. 3:
Justifiable Hypocrisy from Open Heart Publishing. It was released in
November and is available in both print and ebook format from her web portal at http://debrincase.com/ahlvol3/stephanie-m-loree. Buying the anthology (and voting) counts as points for Stephanie toward a book deal as part of the publisher’s annual contest.

So, here’s my interview with Stephanie.

I’m always interested in hearing how stories are born. What was the first element of “The Skin Script” that came to you? Was it the characters, the basic premise, or something else?

Truth be told, I was chatting with my critique partner on the phone
when I had a vision of a guy with neon lights all over his skin. I
said to my partner, “What if you could see someone’s soul on their
skin? Like a soul map thingy.” Then I told her she could take the idea
and write it. About six months later, I changed my mind and told her I
was taking it back. She was kind enough to refund my idea, no charge.
Everything else about “The Skin Script” bloomed during the outlining
stage.

Would you care to tell us anything about the sources or inspiration for this story?

There’s a lovely writer named Jodi Henry
(http://jodilhenry.blogspot.com/) who went out and actually *got a
tattoo* while I was writing the piece. I don’t have any tattoos
myself, so I had a lot of questions about the process. Jodi was an
excellent resource. She took pictures, procured a couple pamphlets,
asked the artist lots of questions, and fact-checked the story. I
mean, she got a tattoo for me. That’s dedication.

Additional inspiration came from researching “limners,” a word I
stumbled across by accident. Everything else fell from the recesses of
my brain.

[Interruption from Fred: It is amazing how single words can lead to stories. For any verbivores out there, I would whole-heartedly recommend www.dictionary.com, where you can sign up (absolutely free) to receive a word of the day in your e-mail in-box. I adore it! It’s like, free education and story ideas!]

Now, back to our interview . . .

In Japan, members of the Yakuza (the “Japanese Mafia”) often have elaborate tattoos that cover large areas of their bodies. I’m thinking also of the Maori of New Zealand. For those who haven’t read “The Skin Script,” what does full-body limning mean in the culture to which your characters belong?

In the setting of the story, everyone who is anyone receives a
full-body tattoo (an “illumination”). It’s taboo *not* to have a
tattoo, and they are a sign of privilege and beauty. But more
importantly, the tattoo artists (limners) are able to see the future
of a client, and by inking them, they design and seal that future for
the best. The process starts when a child reaches adulthood, because
the people have found that tattooing a child interferes with their
development. As you can imagine, a limner’s service is expensive (they
are also tightly controlled), and the rich and powerful have much
easier access to illuminations than the poor (called “empties” for
their lack of tats). There is also a sense that the rich in this story
are Mafiosos, and the Yakuza probably had a subconscious influence
while I was writing.

Was this an easy story to write, or a hard one?

“The Skin Script” was probably the easiest story I’ve written. It just
sorta flowed out of me. But it was a pain to edit, and I owe my
critique group a debt of gratitude. They helped me clean up the story
so that I expressed an entirely different world without boring the
reader with details.

Let’s hear it for critique groups! I couldn’t live without discerning and no-nonsense writer friends, either!

The story reminded me of Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report in its exploration of, “If we know the future, we can act to correct it before it happens.” That leads to some difficult moral questions. “Who can define ‘correct’?” “Possessing such knowledge, what obligations do we have? What rights do we have?” You deal with the questions beautifully in the tale, facing them head-on. Without giving away the plot, I’d like to ask: Did you know from the outset what choices your characters would make? Or were you discovering the questions and the answers along with the characters?

Oh boy, no, I didn’t really know a thing. The characters told me. I
drafted up an outline and the conflicting choices I wanted them to go
through, but I honestly didn’t know what the ending would look like
until it happened. My characters often have a mind of their own, which
makes me feel crazy, like the voices in my head really are speaking to
me…

When that happens for me, I usually take it as a sign that I’m doing my job right, staying out of the way.

One aspect of your story that fascinated me was this: normally, we would expect the one with the ability to see and control the future to be in a position of great power. But in your tale, it doesn’t quite work that way, does it?

Ah yes, the limners are the ones with power to see and seal a future,
but none of the power to control their own destinies. They’re bonded
to their owners like well-kept slaves. The story’s protagonist, Jules,
is a limner and “made man” under his boss. Poor Jules doesn’t get out
much. There are laws in place to keep limners under control. As I say
in the story, “You don’t allow fortune-tellers to make their own
fortune.”

Can you remember your first attempt at writing, perhaps when you were very young? What, if anything, was the common link with what you’re writing as an adult?

When I was 3 or 4, I wrote my memoir as a gift for my mother. It
started, “On August 4th, I was hatched.” My mom raised exotic parrots
at the time, and I’d seen baby birds born. I just assumed I came from
an egg. The common link? I still have to ask my grandmother how to
spell “hatched,” and I’m hoping I really did come from an egg. My
wings better grow in soon. Also: fantasy. I lived in the fantasy
worlds of Tolkien and Lewis and Grimms’ Tales. I still do.

A memoir at age 4! I love it! I determined to write a phone book at about that age, so you were way ahead of me. I got my parents to spell out the names of all our friends and relatives, and I painstakingly copied out their phone numbers. Then I looked at it and literally whacked myself on the forehead, and I groaned: “I can’t read!” That was a severe obstacle, until I got to kindergarten.

Tolkien, Lewis, and the Grimms! Yes!

Is there a particular element or aspect that you think the best fantasy stories have? As a reader, what do you read for?

The best fantasies have realism, which may be an oxymoron, but it’s
true. Characters should be real. The settings or themes should analyze
a part of our real world (though you may not know what you’re
analyzing while you’re writing it). Real people and real places aren’t
all of one thing, but a combination of many things: good and bad. I
like to see a lot of “gray” in books, characters with dubious
morals/agendas, or when an author turns a trope on its head. Realism
gets me emotionally involved in a story, connecting me with a
character, and that’s essential to any good book.

I couldn’t agree more! Do you prefer rough drafts or revising? Which part of the process is the most fun for you, or does it depend?

Revising, hands down. Even though “The Skin Script” was the opposite for me, I have a much easier time editing a piece than I do dumping words on a blank page. First drafts intimidate me. This is likely because I started my writing journey as an editor for others, not a composer of my own stories. I’m most comfortable with a red pen and a grammar hammer.

I think both first drafts and revisions have their separate joys and challenges, but I do see what you mean. With the revision, you know you’ve got something. You’ve got a certain level of “good” guaranteed, because it’s there, and you can focus on making it better.

Do you typically do a lot of editing, or do your stories come out nearly finished the first time?

Since I have such fear of the first draft and love to edit, I tend to
write very slowly, taking particular care with each sentence’s
structure and sound. This annoys the crap out of me, as I’d love to
vomit forth thousands of words every day. But I can’t. My writing
process is simply a slow one, and I’ve been told my work needs little
editing by the time I send it out. I don’t think this is a good or bad
thing compared to others, it’s just how I work.

Cool! Do you write your first drafts on paper or at a keyboard?

Keyboard. I’m a techie, and my handwriting is horrid. I can’t imagine
writing a book by hand. I’d never have survived pre-printing press
days.

Are there any writing tools that you’re fond of? Hardware, software, a particular type of pen?

All my work is written in GoogleDocs so I can access it from work,
home, or on the go. I’m in love with Wikipedia and
Dictionary/Thesaurus.com, and I highly recommend a program called
FocusWriter (http://gottcode.org/focuswriter/) for distraction-free
writing when needed. Oh, and I use Speak Clipboard
(http://www.speaktools.com/) to hear my stories in robotic voice (no
inflection lets words speak for themselves) during my editing process.

Also, coffee. Best tool in a writer’s toolbox, besides gin.

Some of the best editors I know read things aloud before turning a final draft loose. Thanks for those resources!

Would you care to describe your favorite writing space or situation? For example, most of my writing so far has been done on a computer at a kitchen table, usually in the evening or late at night, with people moving around, talking, occasionally interrupting me, but nothing demanding my attention other than the writing. How about you?

The deli in my office building. Lots of people around chit-chatting,
me and my critique partner sitting at a corner table with our laptops,
typing furiously, hot coffee and salad bar near at hand. We call them
our “writing luncheons.” It’s not where most of my writing happens,
but it is my favorite. I work best when others are around. Peer
pressure, maybe.

Could be peer pressure (since you mention a critique partner who also writes), or it could be the comfort of human presence, since writing is such a solitary activity. I love it when people are near, but are letting me concentrate.

What has been your best, most thrilling moment so far as a writer?

When my first publisher called to tell me I’d been accepted. I ended
up listening to the voicemail (which I saved) and jumping with squee,
giggling my head off. Not my finest moment, but fun! This is followed
closely by whenever I write “The End” at the bottom of a first draft.

Did you ever receive some particularly BAD writing advice from a well-meaning teacher, friend, etc.?

I wouldn’t say I’ve gotten BAD advice, but I have gotten CRUEL
feedback. Sometimes you need tough love, but there’s a difference
between a constructive critique that improves your writing, and a
destructive critique that does nothing but tear you down. You really
have to develop thick skin in this industry, and I got my armor early
on.

Oh, also, whenever someone says “Never” or “Always” when talking about writing, they’re lying. What they mean is, “Until you know the rule, don’t break it.” There are no nevers/always in the craft.

Wow, that’s well-said! Everyone would do well to go back and re-read your answer. Then go back and re-read it again!

I remember one specific moment when I was critiquing a manuscript for a writer friend, and I realized I was criticizing him for not being me. I was finding fault because he wasn’t doing something like I would have done it. I’d like to believe, and I do believe, that I’m over that now . . . that I let other writers be other writers.

Which authors do you love? Who has been a big influence on you, and whom are you reading now?

I am a Jim Butcher fangirl. Someday, I will meet him, buy him a beer,
and talk nerdy with him. His stories made me fall in love with Urban
Fantasy and inspired me to write my own. I’m also a huge fan of Holly
Black, Neil Gaiman, Lauren Oliver, George R.R. Martin, and Ray
Bradbury. I’m currently reading Patrick Rothfuss’ THE NAME OF THE WIND, and Richard Kadrey’s SANDMAN SLIM, in addition to the number of shorts I read in magazines: Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Fantasy & Science Fiction are my favorites.

Imagine that, 150 years from now, you’re being discussed by a panel at the World Fantasy Convention. “Stephanie M. Lorée was a writer who . . .” What would you like to be remembered for?

…was a writer who conquered distant galaxies and ruled kingdoms with her mighty kung fu.”

Really, my goal is to entertain the reader. If you’re not having fun
in my stories, then I’m not doing it right. I’m not looking to jump on
my soapbox and endow you with deeper meaning, or wow you with my literary prowess. If you take away a deeper meaning or are impressed with my literary skills, all the better, but I just want you to have a good time. In 150 years, I’d like your great-grandkids to read my book and say, “Wow, this was awesome.”

Again, brilliantly-put! That’s exactly why I got into this. I want that future kid to be sitting under a tree, or with his/her knees propped against the edge of a desk, and to be engrossed in some world that came into our world through my fingers. I don’t care if the kid thinks about my name or not. It’s the world and the story that matter; it’s the reader’s enjoyment. Hear, hear!

What’s next for you? Can you tell us anything about what’s in the works?

I’m currently on contract for an RPG tie-in anthology, wherein I’m
contributing a story about a gun-toting widow who reincarnates seeking vengeance for her dead husband. I’ve got a YA fantasy novel in the pipeline featuring cannibal spirits and prehistoric bears. There’s also the dozen or so short story ideas floating in my head ranging from cyborg time-cops to obsessed golems and Italian steampunk sorcerers. Should be good times.

Greatly appreciate the interview, Frederic, and all your readers for taking the time to read!

Stephanie, the honor and pleasure are most definitely ours! Thank you for being here!

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24 Responses to ““The Skin Script”: Author Interview with Stephanie M. Loree”

  1. Alex J. Cavanaugh Says:

    What an interesting idea for a story, Stephanie! Can’t wait to read it. And I prefer editing to writing the first draft as well. Takes me forever to get an idea down on paper.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks for the comment, Alex! Yes, you’re going to love the story!

      Writing a first draft can sometimes feel like doing acrobatics without a net. You don’t know how the story’s going to come out, or even if there will be a story there at all. But with editing, usually you’re bringing out the highlights of something that you can’t wait for other people to see!

    • Stephanie M. Lorée Says:

      Hey Alex, thanks for taking the time to stop by and read/comment. I’m glad I’m not alone in my slow first drafts.

  2. Elena Says:

    Awesome interview, Steph & Fred!

  3. fsdthreshold Says:

    Note to all readers: if, on your computer, the line-breaks in this interview look weird, my apologies! It’s not a case of carelessness. After posting the interview, I went back again and again making adjustments, retyping all the parts where the lines divided in odd places. I got it looking perfect on my screen, but I know from experience that my blog posts look different on different computers. And in fact, it might look different to you each time you access the site. It’s just one of those things the gremlins do; but I’m still grateful to WordPress — overall, I’ve been delighted with how things work!

    • Daylily Says:

      Yes, a few strange line-breaks. But a great interview–fun to read!

      • fsdthreshold Says:

        It tends to look the best when you first go to the interview from the Internet — that is, through the front door. If you click on the comments section and read them, then go back to the interview, the lines are broken all over the place — it really looks bizarre!

      • Buurenaar B'Enceri Says:

        And this is why I have four browsers on my computer…

  4. Donna Hole Says:

    That was an awesome interview Steph and Fred. (BTW, nice to meet you Fred)

    I’m so with you on the editing vs writing the draft Stephanie. And I’m so slow at writing, and reading, I wonder if I’ll ever get it finished. I still need lots of editing afterwards though.

    I loved your response to the 150 years from now question. And thanks for the writing tools references. Those look interesting.

    Its been fun to stop by. I’ll come back again Fred.

    ……….dhole

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks, Donna! And nice to meet you, too! Another slow reader, like me! (High five!) I’m notorious on this blog and elsewhere. I love to read; I’m just incredibly slow at it. When I finished Lud-in-the-Mist, a friend asked me, “So, what book are you going to read THIS year, then?” My problem is that I usually read every page at least twice — sometimes more — for fear of missing something, and to savor the experience. Reading too quickly feels like you’re “wasting” the book!

    • Stephanie M. Lorée Says:

      Hey Donna! I hope you enjoy the writing tools; they’ve worked wonders for me (especially FocusWriter, as I tend to be a bit ADD when I sit down at the computer). Thanks for stopping in!

  5. morwenna Says:

    Wonderful interview! It’s endlessly fascinating to read about the creative process. Stephanie, I’m so glad your friend refunded your marvelous idea!

    The tattoo theme had me thinking about literary characters from Queequeg to the Illustrated Man.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks, Morwenna! Aren’t author interviews fun?

    • Stephanie M. Lorée Says:

      Morwenna, I love how so many authors have used tattoos in their work to expose various parts of the human condition. I wonder if it’s because of modern society’s taboo view, or the long history humans have of marking themselves. Probably a bit of both.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Take care!

  6. Alexia Chamberlynn Says:

    Great interview, guys! Skin Script is in my TBR pile!

  7. I am Mr Brown Snowflake Says:

    ATTENTION BLOG FRIENDS! Thursday, January 12 is our hosts’ birthday!

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY FRED!!

    • Daylily Says:

      It is now officially Fred’s birthday, EST. So all together now, one, two, three: “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Fred, happy birthday to you!” [singing of throng of friends followed by sounds of party noisemakers, champagne corks popping, and elaborate arrangement of "Happy Birthday" song for trombone solo and brass band]

  8. Scott Says:

    Happy Birthday Fred!

  9. Buurenaar B'Enceri Says:

    Happy belated birthday, master o’ wordlore! Feliz cumpleanos! (If my profesor knew that I wasn’t using the Spanish international keyboard, he’d probably whop me one.) Also, this is an interest piquing piece. Consider this on my long to-be-read list…for once I beat Skyrim. Darn you, Elder Scrolls, although I love you oh so much.

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