The Valley and the Flood by Rebecca Mahoney
1- Welcome former OA team member! What was your favorite part of being on the OA team?
It’s so great to be back! I loved the sense of community at OA most, but I also loved the ways that thinking of posting topics made me think critically about my writing style and what I had to share with people. I particularly loved writing posts about horror-writing craft and what made a scene scary.
2- Would you please, in 160 characters or less, give a #WriteTip ?
You don’t have to write every day, but try to keep to a routine that’s manageable for you – it’s so much easier once it becomes habit!
3- What most motivates you to read a new book?
I think the first thing that draws me in, aside from a killer premise, is a strong setting as a character. I’m more than willing to take time to get to know and love the protagonist, but a unique, compelling setting that grabs me right off the bat is the first thing that keeps me reading.
4- What makes you a certified sea-witch?
Hah! Aside from loving Ursula’s style, that’s mostly just a joke about how much I love the sea. I’ve been lucky enough to live coast-adjacent most of my life, and being by the water is just such a perfect reset for my brain. This is probably why water plays a pivotal role in most of my stories!
5- Would you share a picture with us of your book somewhere fun?
While I personally haven’t gotten to take my book many places, here’s a picture my mom snapped of VALLEY in the wild at the Barnes & Noble I used to walk to as a teenager. Imagining it on the same shelves I spent so many hours wandering is more than I can wrap my head around sometimes!
6- What is your favorite classical Japanese ghost story?
The Noppera-bo, a faceless ghost. In one of the original stories, they pose as both a crying girl in the woods luring in passers-by, and the proprietors of the noodle stand where the protagonist runs to escape the girl. I wrote a translation of this story for class in college, so I’m particularly fond of it!
7- What's your Twitter handle, and do you have two or three writer friends on there to shout-out to for #WriterWednesday ?
My own Twitter handle is @cafecliche ! For writer friends, I will shout out three friends whose manuscripts or ARCs I’m reading right now: @gravity_fail09 , @gayowyn , and @ivytheleaf !
8- When did you first know you wanted to publish a book someday?
I know it’s a bit of a cop-out to say there was never a time I didn’t want to, but I think that’s true! My parents read to me as much as they could very early on, and I dictated my first story for my mom to write when I was 3 or 4 years old. Since I was always making up stories and indulging in long daydreams about my future author life, the biggest lightning bolt moment was the realization was that there was no reason I needed to wait to try to write a manuscript – I could just sit down and do it, and see what happened. I started writing that first manuscript my senior year of college, and even though I never tried submitting it anywhere (I was very comfortable with it being a practice run) it was invaluable to me, because it taught me that I could see a bigger project through. And I’ve been writing steadily ever since!
9- Are you a Plotter, Pantser, or Plantser, and how did you adopt that style?
Plotter 100% - I used to be able to pants the first few chapters and then write a full outline, but I’ve been buckling down even further on my plotting tendencies in recent years! I still do try to pants every so often, just to see if I COULD enjoy it, but it never seems to work for me – I always need the momentum of running down a track I’ve already built, not one I’m building as I go.
When I had a much better memory, I would picture the scene in my head first, then sort of transcribe it, but with the various demands on my brainpower these days, it’s much easier to make copious notes in zero-draft form, then transform it into a full scene. Lately I’ve also been skipping over transitions and reactions if they’re slowing me down too much – I’ll write a basic description of what I’m trying to do in brackets, and will fill it in on my next pass. My plotting tendencies have always made me a bit of a slow drafter, and that’s been great for improving my speed.
10- What does your basic writing schedule look like, and how often do you write?
I try to get to writing first thing when I wake up (whenever that may be – pandemic schedules have been variable!) because it feels easiest to get right down to it before my attention is drawn in other directions. I try to set very manageable goals for myself every day, especially if I’m on a deadline, so that I can be on track to finish in plenty of time, but also am not working so much that I’m completely overwhelmed.
Usually I write every day, but I try to take little vacations every now and then! I decided to take it easy this month to recover from a slew of February deadlines, and that’s been good for me.
11- What is your favorite book by someone else, what's the author's Twitter handle, and what do you love most about that book? #FridayReads book recommendation time!
Oh man, I have so many favorites, but the one I always come back to in the past few years is
Author name: Emily X.R Pan @exrpan
Title: THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER
Love because: It’s such a searing, stunning portrait of grief, beautifully crafted on the sentence level and propelled by a quietly powerhouse voice as in the wake of her mother’s suicide, the protagonist Leigh seeks out pieces of her she never had access to while she was alive. It’s haunting, heartbreaking, and cathartic.
12- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader?
There are so many different emotions that ended up woven into VALLEY over the years I worked on it, but I always come back to the question I wanted to answer when I decided to make VALLEY a loose riff on The Odyssey: how do you come home to yourself when you don’t recognize the way anymore? And what I’d love for people to take away from it is that it isn’t a perfect process. We are our first and often most unreliable narrators, and Rose, who’s in the middle of answering this question for herself, doesn’t always give herself the gentleness she deserves. I wanted to lead her to a point where she’d be pushed to look at the parts of herself that scare her and find compassion for them. I would love it if readers, after putting down VALLEY, can think about the parts of themselves that have been waiting a long time for compassion, too.
13- What kind of impact do you hope your book will have?
VALLEY is, first and foremost, about figuring out how to tell your own story to yourself before anyone else, and it would mean the world to me if it helped someone understand their own story, too. Writing the story that I would have needed when I was in a similar place as Rose was both a relief and also one of the hardest things I’ve ever done: I kept thinking, how do I know that what was true for me is going to be meaningful to anyone else? What if I’m just fully off-base and no one else experienced these things this way? But not only is that not true, but is so much in-between. Someone could pick up VALLEY and feel really seen. Someone could mostly not relate, but find one piece of it that’s really useful or comforting to them. And of course there are people who may not relate to it at all, though even in that case, there’s the chance that knowing what doesn’t speak to them will help them find something that does. If a reader can take what they need from this story, even if what they need is something else entirely, I feel like I will have done my job.
14- What is your favorite creative non-writing activity to do?
Watch horror movies! Honestly, I think getting into horror (and learning the tropes so well that they don’t scare me anymore) has done wonders for my anxiety. Horror has a setup-payoff structure with its scares that gives you an eventual release from that tension. With anxiety, you spend a lot of time trying to figure out why you’re nervous, waiting for the other shoe to drop. With horror I can be like, oh thank God, I didn’t leave the stove on. It’s just a ghost.
15- diversebooks.org #WeNeedDiverseBooks What's your favorite book with a diverse main character?
Far too many to name, but most recently I’ve been reading YOU SHOULD SEE ME IN A CROWN by Leah Johnson, in which Black teen Liz Lighty campaigns for prom queen to get the scholarship she needs to escape her small midwestern town – and ends up falling for her rival for the crown. It’s such a sweet, charming book, and Johnson writes with such infectious love and empathy for her characters.
16- What method do you feel is the best way to get book reviews?
Related to the next question, marketing/review submission was another reason I decided to pursue traditional publishing overall, but in terms of blogger reviews, I just try to stay involved in conversations about my debut year, and pitch VALLEY when outlets are looking for new titles to review. It can be tough sometimes, because I have that knee-jerk reticence about promoting myself, but I’ve been nudging myself to be better about it!
17- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?
Traditional publishing has been the dream from the start, but practically, I knew that’s what I wanted to pursue just because of the sheer amount of logistics involved in self-publishing success. My self-published friends are incredibly disciplined and wildly creative marketers, and I do not really have a head for that! (Also, I’m a program coordinator in my day job, so the fewer logistics I have to handle in my creative life, the happier I am!)
18- What's the biggest writing goal you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
Oh man. I have books that are like security blankets for me – ones that I read as a child or teenager and then took with me when I moved to my own place. I would love to write a book that could be that for someone. Something that makes them feel a little safer or more understood just by virtue of being in their home.
19- Would you please ask our audience a question to answer in the comments?
If you were to write one of your fears into a book, what would it be?
20- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?
You can find me on Twitter at @cafecliche where I talk a lot about trauma, storytelling, horror movies, and usually whichever TV show I’m devouring this week!
The Valley and the Flood by Rebecca Mahoney