As somebody who is still in the midst of getting to grips with a second language, and feels that no matter how much I learn I am always never more than an hour or so away from the next slack-jawed and wide eyed moment when I realise I have no idea what somebody has just said to me, I am always impressed when I find a writer who can fluently and effortlessly tell their stories in their chosen second language. Therefore today I am very pleased to introduce you to Cora Buhlert. She was born and bred in North Germany, where she still lives today – after time spent in London, Singapore, Rotterdam and Mississippi. Cora holds an MA degree in English from the University of Bremen and is currently working towards her PhD. Cora has been writing, since she was a teenager, and has published stories, articles and poetry in various international magazines. When she is not writing, she works as a translator and teacher.
Welcome Cora, it's great to have you joining us today. Tell us a little bit about your latest book?
My latest book is called Flights of Madness and is a collection of five short stories.
How did you come up with the title?
Titling short story collections is always a bit of a challenge, because the title should reflect the theme that unites the collected stories. In this case, all stories all stories involved people (three passengers, a flight attendant and a pilot) going mad aboard a plane, so I came up with Flights of Madness.
When and why did you begin writing?
I have been making up and telling stories for as long as I can remember. Eventually I started writing them down. I think my first attempts at writing stories were Enid Blyton pastiches penned sometime around fourth grade. But I did not start writing in earnest until I was about fourteen and did not get serious about writing until university.
Do you write in the same genre you like to read?
Sort of, because I both read and write in multiple genres. That said, the bulk of my reading these days is fantasy and science fiction, whereas the majority of my stories published to date are historical fiction. And I mainly read novels these days, but the bulk of what I write are short stories and novelettes. However, I wouldn't normally write in a genre I didn't like to read. There's one exception, my story Outlaw Love. I specifically wrote it as a challenge to see if I could write a western, since westerns are a genre I don't particularly care for. Outlaw Love is my bestselling e-book to date, go figure.
Do you have a specific writing style?
Not really. I mix it up from project to project, switching between past and present tense, funny and serious as well as first and third person narration with a bit of omniscient thrown in for good measure. However, my prose is relatively straightforward and I've never been what you'd call a lyrical writer. I once tried to imitate a certain kind of very overblown lyrical writing that was popular in the fantasy genre for a while. I managed to stay serious for maybe half a page, then my natural voice came through and the story started sounding like a parody of the kind of writing I tried to imitate. The result is utterly un-publishable, even as an indie. For while the story is hilarious, if you've read the kind of overblown writing found in some corners of the fantasy genre (corners usually populated by people without a sense of humor), it is an utter mess if you don't get the references. So I guess this one will stay in the drawer for the time being.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I always have multiple projects on the go, often in multiple stages of completion. So if I get blocked on one project, I simply switch to another and continue to write or edit it. When I don't feel like writing new words at all, I translate my existing stories into German. I write in English, but I am German and work as a professional tech translator in my day job, so translating my own stories is really a no brainer.
What inspires you to write? Where do you find your influences?
Influences are all around us. You only have to look closely. For example, two of the five stories in Flights of Madness resulted from a writing exercise at a creative writing workshop I took at university. I found them on an old Zip disk and liked them enough to rework them. Another story in the collection was inspired by two random words from an online dictionary I used as writing prompts. Yet another story was inspired by sitting across the aisle from a very drunk, very smelly and very rude man on a flight to the UK. The final story was written, because I suddenly realised that I had stories about passengers and pilots going mad, but nothing about a flight attendant, even though their job should be enough to drive anyone mad. One of the incidents in that story, an incident involving icky stains on the toilet, is based almost verbatim on something that happened at the school where I teach English.
What are your current projects?
First of all, I'm planning to translate more of my stories into German in 2013. In January 2013, I'll also be releasing a suspense novelette called Insomnia about a man who finds himself unable to sleep and gradually succumbs to paranoia… or does he?
On the writing front, I'm working on a series of science fiction novellas telling the story of a great galactic revolution from the POVs of various people involved on all sides.
I also have a few more backlist short stories to republish and more historical novelettes in the works.
What are your challenges in writing? What elements do you find difficult?
I'm not very good at writing description. My first drafts often read like radio plays – a lot of dialogue and some bare bones description when I think of it. I always have to go back and add in the description in the second draft.
Are there any downsides to being a writer?
Working in isolation can be tough, particularly in the beginning when all you have is an idea and the overwhelming desire to tell a story, but very little actual writing skills. That's why workshops, writing groups and beta readers are so important for the beginning writer.
If you could choose one writer to be your mentor, who would it be?
That's a difficult question. I actually did have a mentor, a poet and essayist who was my creative writing teacher at university. And he was a very good mentor and teacher, too. If I had the choice, I'd pick a mentor who was as good at the mentoring thing as my old creative writing teacher, but who actually got genre fiction, cause mine never did, though he did try.
Maybe I'd pick one of the pulp writers from the early 20th century, because I have always been enormously impressed by their speed and work ethic and by the way they could effortlessly switch between different genres.
I have too many to pick just one. A few of my favourites are The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov, V. by Thomas Pynchon, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, etc…
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Read a lot, write a lot and – to quote Galaxy Quest – never give up and never surrender.
How tough was it to find a publisher/agent/decision to self publish?
I had a bunch of traditional short story sales and non-fiction pieces under my belt, when I started self-publishing, so I was not completely unpublished. But I never had an agent and my first complete novel (coming to an e-book store near you soon) got rejected by the only editor I ever sent it to.
How do you perceive the world of self publishing?
In general, I'm happy about the possibilities that self-publishing has opened up for me and particularly about the control it has given me over every aspect of my work. My old backlist stories that were just clogging up my harddrive suddenly have a value beyond an entry in my bibliography again and are finding new readers and making me money. Besides, in the old days, I used to discard a lot of story ideas outright, because there was no market for that sort of thing. Now I give every idea a chance to develop. And if there is no existing market, then I'll simply make my own.
Moreover, the community of so-called indie writers is great and full of talented and incredibly helpful people. There are times when I get a bit annoyed, e.g. when self published writers are caught to have done stupid or unethical things (e.g. the regular writer/reviewer blow-ups or the paying for reviews scandal), because they make us all look bad. Also I tend to get frustrated by the trendchasing and extreme moneymaking focus of certain self-published writers or the way that some indie writers turn into the genre police and insist on proper adherence to genre conventions more than the traditional publishing world ever did. I'm not at all against making money and writing for entertainment, our own and that of others. But if getting rich is all you want, there are easier careers to choose than writing.
Cora's personal blog is at http://corabuhlert.com, and her publisher blog is at http://pegasus-pulp.com .
Cora's Amazon author page can be found here.