Coffin Bell: Introduce yourself.
Cindra Spencer: I don’t know how to introduce myself without sounding like one of those Colorado moms that loves her day job, goes hiking, and bakes her family paleo cookies. I have a rescue dog that can’t eat gluten and he gets stupidly excited for kale and sweet potatoes. Shoot. I wasted no time making this introduction about food. I also get stupidly excited about food. People who don’t love food freak me out. I read a lot, and I write a little. I enjoy fiction of all lengths.
CB: When you write, do you start with a plan and move from there, or do you generally go where the writing takes you?
CS: I will admit I’m shit at outlining. When writing a longer piece, such as a novel, I force some semblance of an outline because there’s nothing worse than revising eighty-thousand words eighty-thousand times. In general though, my ideas usually start with a small spark, then grow of their own accord. I love letting the words push me down the path. I’m most inspired by abandoned buildings. There’s something so vulnerable and lonely about them. The emptiness and neglect begs to tell a story. Many of my ideas were sparked by an empty building.
CB: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
CS: To never throw anything out / delete it forever. If a story is really awful, set it aside for a time—so much time that you forget exactly what it is—because when viewed with a fresh lens, the good bits can be salvaged and the problems repaired. Several times I’ve revisited a piece I held in my mind as absolute trash, then realized, “It’s actually not that bad. It’s actually. . . kind of good? I can work with this.”
CB: What advice can you give about revising and editing work?
CS: There’s no better editor than time. Finding your patience and leaving the work alone for awhile is the best way to come back with new appraisal to ensure the words achieve what you’re aiming for.
CB: What advice can you give about navigating the world of publishing?
CS: I do have a mental trick to maintain positive spirits. As everyone knows, the attempts:success ratio can be disheartening. Whenever I receive a rejection, though, I remind myself the piece is now one step closer to where it needs to be. No one wants a reluctant or charitable acceptance. When a lit mag, agent, editor or publisher shows real enthusiasm for your work, you know it’s in the right hands.
CB: Who are your influences?
CS: This is impossible to answer because it would grow into a long list of all the names I’ve ever read. I read across every genre, except for fantasy. Am not too keen fantasy. I know I’m in a good book when I stop paying attention to structure and simply get lost in the story. When that happens, I’ll often go back to analyze how the author pulled it off so seamlessly. Likewise, I pull some inspiration from authors that missed the mark. I’ve learned as much from what-not-to-do as I have from I-hope-to-write-like-that-someday.
CB: What’s one thing you wish every journal editor knew?
CS: I wish journal editors would take more credit for the ripple effects of establishing and maintaining a platform. Yes, editors help polish work so that it conveys what the author intended (and we thank you for that). But more importantly, by assembling authors and readers together a unique family is created. There’s kinship and a sense of home; a place where the work, the authors, and the readers all belong, together. It’s an underappreciated aspect.
CB: Taphophobia is the fear of being buried alive. Tell us about your fears.
CS: I am not a fan of adverse weather. Have you seen those videos where tornados just fall out of the sky in like .0001 seconds and demolish everything? Weather events are terrifying. Lots of people are afraid of paranormal things (snooze) or psychopathic axe murders (so rare) or clowns (meh). . . but tornadoes, holy crap. They are real and they are frequent. Google says it’s called ‘Lilapsophobia.’ It sounds so lovely. There’s nothing lovely about a black, ominous sky.
CB: What draws you to dark literature?
CS: Without some variance of black elements, all stories would float on an even keel of sunshine. With nothing dark to overcome, there’s no achievement. All that sunshine would get old, fast. Unlike the real horrors we all experience at one time or another, there’s an odd reassurance about fictitious fear. . . you can always set the book down, mute the movie. The knowledge you aren’t in real danger is like an emotional safety net. For me, the darkest fiction is when these two notions collide.
CB: How does the darkness in your piece enhance the work?
CS: I am fascinated by the vast reader response to darker elements. Everyone’s threshold is so varied. It’s interesting to see what one person finds mild—even boring—another finds terrifying. What’s repulsive to some may be funny to others. As an author, I think I’ve done a good job if the reader experiences a visceral response. Any actual physical response… be it laughter, tears, or a chilled spine. . . that’s a mark of success.
CB: How important are your surroundings when you write? Tell us about your workspace.
CS: The two environments that work well for me are complete opposites. When I’m home alone in a quiet room the ideas will flood in. I don’t listen to music or have any background noise when writing at home. Sometimes it is so quiet I can hear the refrigerator humming. Finding that kind of solitude is rare, though, so I will often go to a busy coffee shop or neighborhood bar. When there is a constant stream of background noise—lots of chatter and music, kitchen noise—I can tune it all out and zone in. I can’t focus though if only a few people are people talking. Then I’ll just listen to conversations like a creep and not make any progress.
CB: If you had to summarize your philosophy of literary creation, what would that be?
CS: I’m not fond of literary pretention. A good story speaks for itself.
CB: Where can we find more of your work?
CS: I have short stories anthologized with other spectacular works of fiction in Rise: an Anthology of Change, Terror at 5280, and Paws and Claws. Online, my story “Pinned” may be found in The Blue Pages Journal, and of course, at Coffin Bell. I have completed a mystery novel that I am actively querying, and I’m in the midst of crafting my second novel. Follow along on Twitter @Cindra_Spencer.