C.L. Taylor sat down with me today to talk about her writing process, her time with the Writing Academy, and the glorious freedom in writing speculative fiction.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. I have an extremely important question – were you the coolest person in your graduating class?
(Laughs) I think you’re thinking of literally anyone else in class—including the teachers. What a badass group of women! I actually got a tattoo to commemorate my time with the WA. Ask me to show it to you sometime. (Ed. Note. We were going to ask for a picture, but we decided to let you use your imagination instead.)
Everyone was great—the students, teachers, mentors, you and Joy. The whole experience was invigorating, challenging…even Jody Klaire’s homework. And there was a lot. But I relished it.
Seriously, though. Your entire class was fantastic. Do you still keep in touch with your cohorts?
I’m trying to stay in touch as much as possible. The friendships and connections I’ve made with my classmates are something I’m grateful for. I know that if I need a beta read, sanity check, or help in taking myself less seriously, my fellow WA alums are never too far away.
Your short story “Upcycler” for the Writing Academy anthology, Written Dreams, was unique and incredibly well-written. What was your process for that?
Sometimes, my stories sprout up around a character trait. Other times, I’ll get a name or a song stuck in my head or I’ll see an article of clothing—like Arra’s boots—and it’s a little seed I’ll store away. It always begins there, with a character who has something to say.
With The Upcycler, the main character, Arra, was in my head for a while, taking up space, being salty. I mean, Arra has her own playlist, favorite foods, clothes, things she hates about me, things she puts up with, things she does that make me laugh or piss me off.
The story started with Arra, but I needed to know what the world that created Arra would look like, smell like, feel like, too.
It was important to show Arra and the other inhabitants of the story with all their flaws, as incomplete in some way—emotionally, mentally, or physically. To me, there’s a beauty to that and I tried my best to show it. All of my classmates—who volunteered their time and energy to read and re-read any one of the copious versions of The Upcycler helped me hone that, helping to ensure Arra’s humanity remained intact despite the shitty things that I make happen to her.
It’s funny. I always had such a clear vision of where Arra would end up at the conclusion of The Upcycler. I was going to put her through hell, because that’s a reflection of the world she inhabits. It’s painful, it exacts a price, but, she was always going to be rewarded if she helped Rufer, if she chose to trust someone. So, even though I wrote and rewrote (and rewrote) the story maybe twenty times, her relationship with and to Rufer was the anchor that held everything together for me.
And I want to give a shout out to Ann Roberts for the edits. She was phenomenal to work with. Thank you, Ann.
Ann Roberts is an amazing editor and mentor. Speaking of Arra, she is such a dynamic character. I would read a full book about her. Any chance of that happening in the future?
Have you been talking to Arra? (laughs) I’m sure she’d love any opportunity to antagonize me again, at length. So, short answer? Yes. Why not?
You had another excellent short story published in Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal, Oh, the Horror! edition. (Ed. Note. This journal is sadly no longer published.) Can you talk a little about that?
“To Make a Life Worth Living” is a work of horror about a programmer, Hana, who develops an AI system designed with the intent to help people feel less lonely. The lines of reality become blurred and she develops feelings for the AI. I know what you’re thinking—this isn’t going to end well, and it doesn’t…or does it? (smiles)
I love horror. I’m certifiable for it. I’m compelled to explore the darkness in things because the more I look, the less afraid I am. Working on “To Make a Life…” was a way for me to explore middle age, mortality, loneliness, and the maybe all-too-familiar experience of exploitation in the tech industry from a more or less safe distance.
You also had a short story in Typehouse Literary Magazine. Is speculative fiction/horror your favorite genre?
I like the challenge of writing in different genres. The thing I appreciate about speculative fiction is a perceived freedom to explore stories and people in the margins. Not to say Arra isn’t capable of being a romantic lead, but she has other things on her plate—like leading a group of differently-abled women through an apocalyptic wasteland! But, yeah, I’ve been drawn to the genre since I first read a worn-through copy of “The Handmaid’s Tale” when I was in sixth grade.
Are you working on anything now?
I write every day—even if it’s just a sentence or a line of dialogue.
I’ve had a hell of a year and faced down some real life horrors. The way I’ve been coping with that is to A.) Take lots of walks, B.) Listen to very loud music while dancing in my living room, and C.) Write, write, write.
I’m at various stages on several short stories ranging from homicidal sex robots to a story about a woman who—thanks to a genetic abnormality—can grow copies of herself in the family garden. (Ed. Note. Hurry with both of these because we want to read them!)
What advice would you give someone who is just coming into the Writing Academy?
You’re going to get out of it what you put into it, so give it everything you can. The year is going to go fast, and you’re going to have access to an incredibly talented pool of writers who are generously volunteering their time to share their knowledge. Take advantage of it! Show up. Ask questions and soak it all up.
And, maybe most importantly, write.
One thing we like to tell people is that the WA is not just for people who intend to publish a book that year. Any writer can benefit from the instruction. Do you want to talk a little about your experience going through the academy?
Receiving that welcome letter from you was exciting. I just wanted to dive in and give it my all.
I wanted to absorb as much as I could. Did I finish writing a book during my time in the WA? Yes, but I also wrote dozens of short stories and was even fortunate enough to get a few of them published.
The WA did that for me. It lit a fire.
Did I struggle with the homework? Yes. (laughs) Yes, I did, but in the best way. The instructors really kept us on our toes. And, hey, fun fact: I still refer to my class notes.
What was the best lesson you learned that year?
To be myself and not let the fear rejection hold me back. It’s a scary thing to put your work out there. It’s not always going to resonate for every single person. That’s okay. Just keep trying. Keep writing.
That’s so true. Even the most well-established authors don’t resonate with everyone. What authors are you reading right now?
So many good books, and never enough time!
I just started reading “City in the Middle of the Night” by Charlie Jane Anders and my summer reads included:
“The Do-Over” by Georgia Beers. (I’d read anything she writes. She is my guilty pleasure.)
“Someone Like Me” by M.R. Carey,
“Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel,
“In the House in the Dark of the Woods” by Laird Hunt,
“The Long Walk” by Stephen King, and this is the time of year when I re-read my favorites, “The Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmith and “Curious Wine” by Katherine V. Forerst.
I’m also eagerly awaiting Britt Augustine’s first book (@baugustinebooks) which I’m hopeful will teach me to be better at sportsball-type stuff while distracting me with some saucy romance.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know that we haven’t asked?
If you’re on Twitter, come find me @ctaylor. I need to hear your scary stories.
The GCLS Writing Academy is a yearlong intensive program for new or relatively new writers who have written at least part of a novel. In this course, students will learn the critical components of quality writing. The Writing Academy goes beyond craft of writing and takes students through all aspects of writing and publishing a novel.