George publishes under both Kyra and George Spisak, depending on genre. She’s up too late doing too many things, but usually gets at least one or two things done before passing out with the light still on. Her list of published stories can be found here (https://georgespisak.wordpress.com/updated-list-of-publications/) You can follow George on Gab at gab.ai/SkullyWrites
- So first tell me a little about your background? Where are you from, what did you read as a child? What stories have stuck with you throughout your life?
I was born and raised in the Great White North. Western Canada to get a little more specific. And I still live there. I’m the eldest of five kids, the youngest of which is about two decades younger than me. I spent most of my childhood moving from place to place and town to town and school to school. I went to nine different schools before I graduated high school, and I’m not part of a military family.
I remember stumbling through snow storms to get to libraries. Most of my childhood was spent reading. My bragging rights on the play-ground stemmed from the fact that I could read while swinging and I had five book shelves and still had book shelves stacked on my floor. My books were never really kid books. I jumped straight into young adult. I read “War of the Worlds” when I was eight. At eleven, I was obsessed with non-fiction books about the process of mummification and medieval torture. “Thistle” by Walter Wangerin, Jr., “Inkheart” by Cornelia Funke, and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams really stick out to me from all the things I’ve read.
- How young were you when you had that moment when you thought “Maybe I could write too!”? And how did you go about making that a reality?
I was probably around six or seven when I first decided I was going to become a writer. Bookstores have always been my favourite places, and hanging around a bookstore is a good way to put ideas in a six-year old’s head. It gave me an inkling of the drive that’s needed to chase a writing career (self-published or traditionally published). I wanted to be able to walk into a book store and buy my own book. That’s still the goal.
Write. Quite simply, writing is the first step and it’s one that isn’t going to end. Sending work out to publishers, talking to readers and other writers, editing and creating a portfolio. At the end of the day, it’s all writing. So I’m going to write until I get there. I’m already getting there, slowly but surely. While working on my novel, I’m sending short stories out to publishers and building a little portfolio. Keeping busy, keeping active, that’s what will make it a reality.
- I want to ask you about the use of your pen name. You go by George but your email address lists you as Kyra. Why did you decide to use a pen name?
My legal name is Kyra and I’m not ashamed of it. In fact, I think it’s actually very pretty. George is a nick-name that most of my friends call me, and I quite like it as well. I use both George and Kyra Spisak as my ‘pen names’, according to genre. George is for horror and science fiction, Kyra is for romance and fantasy. Since I write more horror than anything else, George seemed to be the most logical way to brand my social media platforms. Not only that, but George suits my outward appearance much better. A flowery name like Kyra usually doesn’t go well with a blue-mohawked, leather jacket clad, choker wearing gal.
- What types of themes do you enjoy working with in your writing? Are there any themes that you would be averse to working with, or do you believe control of the narrative is part of being a professional writer?
Death, innocence, fear, and facing darkness are some of my favourite themes to play with. Fear is probably one of the most enjoyable emotions to write and I have the ability to base an entire short story or novel around that theme alone. Throw in the mingling of innocence and darkness and I have an absolute blast of a time writing. Disrupting the traditional idea of innocence is one of my favourites as well. I love throwing kids into unlikely situations and have their unlikely actions make sense in the context of the tale.
I’m a firm believer that freedom of speech applies to writing. If a writer isn’t able to express a theme in their vision, then what is the point of writing? There’s a lost spark in the work. I’ve read a lot of novels that were written by ghost writers or co-writers that didn’t enjoy the writing, they wanted their name out there, and you can tell while reader that there’s something missing. It’s the writer’s own belief in their work and their message and their take on the theme.
A writer also doesn’t need to agree with their message to believe in the way they are portraying the theme. I recently wrote a piece about necrophilia. I don’t approve, condone, or enjoy that topic in the very least. But I believe in exploring different perspectives. Isn’t that what writing comes down to at the end of the day? A way to explore and understand a topic that interests, disgusts, or confuses.
- Was there one particular moment in your life when you noticed that you were becoming successful, or was it a gradual process of waking up and realizing people were reading and listening to you?
Recently, actually. I’ve had three acceptance letters in two months. Which, for someone who has never touched professional or amateur writing in their entire life (I don’t count scribbles posted to Deviantart), is pretty good. I figured there was nothing to lose. I would get a ‘no thank you’ in my inbox. My writing sitting on my laptop was already a ‘no thank you’. I could only go forward.
I sent my first unsolicited piece in the middle of September. It was also the first piece I submitted, ever. Two weeks later, I have an acceptance letter. So I send more pieces out. Three weeks and I have a second. Two more weeks, a third. Personally, I think that’s successful. I can only go up from here.
- We are all products of our mentors. Who are your mentors, and who do you look up too (personally and professionally)?
This question reminds me of middle school introduction day. It was my least favourite question because I never had an answer. Though, I do have one now.
My grandpa. He’s a professional graphic artist and paints realism with acrylic paint, preferably animals. He is also the only member of my family who is one hundred percent, fully behind me and my writing. Sometimes, I’m sure he believes in me and my abilities more than I do. I’ve never seen him without some painting with him or without his sketch book. I used to sit on his lap and paint with him in his studio. I spent hours with him learning that the only way to get better was to throw yourself into something head first. He’s my driving force when I don’t have my own.
- Tell us a little about your process. How and when do you make time to write? Do you write out first drafts by hand then rewrite them as you use the computer? What do you need to get yourself into the headspace of a writer?
I work a retail job, so my hours are always very wonky. I tend to write at one or two in the morning. Basically, I get nice and comfortable in my sofa chair or on my bed with my laptop and a burning cup of tea (the tea must be at the brim, anything less is a half-assed and shameful attempt at making a cup of tea). I’ll start at the document and peck at it for a half hour or an hour before actually writing.
Once I’m writing, I’m gone. I’ll throw three thousand words down in an hour. I’ve finished full short stories in a single binge before.
For editing, I print out a physical copy and absolutely tear it apart with a pen. I’ll punch those edits into the computer. Edits are either done at four am after a writing binge and punched in at a reasonable hour (with a large amount of ‘what the actual fuck are you writing) or done while I’m on break or waiting for a cab home. After the edits have been punched in, there are two potential steps. If I feel confident with my short story, I’ll print out a new copy with the edits and do another round. Then it’s off to a publisher of some sort. If I don’t feel overly confident with the piece (whether this is the material and topics covered or the style or if I think it’s a story that’s best to post online instead of sending off to a publisher), I post it on my profile on Scribophile. It’s a website made for writers to give and get critiques from other writers. I love the community (most days).
- Over the course of a writing life it is inevitable that we have to “kill our babies” to make the book better. What are you feelings on removing something you’re very proud of simply because your alpha readers didn’t respond well to it?
I always heard ‘kill your darlings’. Both phrases are interchangeable for sure. I cut things I love from my work all the time, regardless of reader feedback. If it isn’t working for the plot or isn’t pushing my theme/action, or developing characters, it needs to be cut. Even if I love it. Even if my readers love it (or hate it).
I keep all those bits and pieces though. I plan on posting them on my blog as deleted scenes. Good writing shouldn’t go to waste. There’s also a chance that a cut scene/paragraph/line inspires another story. In other words, hoard everything.
- What are you reading now (November of 2016) and what are you most looking forward to reading in 2017? Can you give us the names of some underrated writers you enjoy?
I’m one of those heathens who reads more than one book at a time. I’m working through “The Demonologist” by Andrew Pyper, “Sabriel” by Garth Nix, “Olympos” by Aki, and “Red Queen” by Victoria Aveyard.
One of my critique partners is turning his novella into a novel. It hasn’t been published anywhere (yet), but I’ve helped him through the novella. I cannot wait for this novel. The anticipation is killing me.
Brom. He illustrates his own work. His books, “Krampus: the Yule Lord” and “The Child Thief” are some of my favourite. And his artwork is absolutely beautiful. Sometimes his writing can be a little childish, but the details and the visuals he paints is utterly fantastic. I highly suggest Brom’s work to anyone who is a fan of the dark and twisted.
- Amazon has done some great things to make it possible for authors of all backgrounds to find a niche audience and then cater to them. What do you see as the strengths of the indie publishing model, as well as some of the weaknesses?
Honestly, I love the indie publishing model and I would love (once I’m stronger in the traditional scene) to have a crack at self-publishing. It’s a fantastic way to find a niche audience that you wouldn’t find in a traditional setting. As a writer, I can take more risks with my stories and not have to worry about a large publishing house cracking down on my work and telling me it’s not ‘appropriate’. There’s so much freedom in the self-publishing world, it’s wonderful. I firmly believe that self-publishing is a valid option for writers who want to get their work out to the public.
That being said, there’s the issue of some writers not editing their books correctly or bringing poorly written books into the scene. Not only does this look bad for the writer who published, but it gives self-publishing a bad reputation. Though I’ve never personally self-published, I can see it being very ‘shouting into the void’ in its nature. Without a ton of leg work (and I don’t disagree with leg work, every writer should be working their ass off to promote their art), good pieces become underappreciated gems. They get lost under the slew of publications.
Either way, it is an extremely valid option in regards to publishing your work.
- What makes someone a “real writer”? Is it a certain level of financial success? Getting on at a major house? Book into a movie?
For me, this answer is really simple. Do you write? If the answer is yes, then you’re a writer. If you’re writing and working on improving your craft, then you are a ‘real writer’. If you are spending blood, sweat, and time on your writing, you are a writer. You don’t need to be ‘the best’ or famous or popular to be a writer. You just need to write.
- Is there a subject you’ve not yet touched on that you have in the back of your mind saved up for when you get a few more great ideas that go with it?
I have a story were I want to touch on racism and social systems. I want to write a rather political piece in a rather unpolitical way. I already have characters, a plot, and a world set up. At this moment, I’m not ready to write it. All the pieces are there but I don’t have the skill set (in my opinion) to execute this story. I need to work on my writing before I attempt it. I’m going to finish my current novel, move onto my second, and then possibly a third before I start this commentary piece.
That being said, I still have a pound and a half of partial scenes, dialogue chunks, characters, religion structures, society structures, and all sort of world building information scattered in notebooks and on my laptop. It’s never too early to start brain storming.
- Are you a formally trained writer? Did you teach yourself or did you attend writing seminars and classes?
The only writing class I’ve ever taken was a script writing class in university. I absolutely hated it. I cannot stand the formatting of a play script. Though playing with dialogue and making unique speech patterns was a fantastic experience and I learned I had a knack for dialogue, I could not stand the class. I would recommend it for those who struggle with creating realistic and believable dialogue though. Suffer through the formatting torture for that, at least.
Otherwise, I’m self-taught. I sat around writing for a while until I got decent at it. After being decent for a very, very long time, I discovered the magic of editing and I became rather good at writing. Writing is like any other set of skills, with practice you improve.
Reading a lot also helps. It gives you a feel for how to write material. It doesn’t matter what you read as long as you’re reading something. I read a lot of fantasy, horror, and science fiction. It gave me a good feel for the structure of the genres. Which, especially if you’re starting out, is extremely helpful.
I’ve heard books on writing are very helpful. But I’ve never personally used them. Even though I have an entire shelf dedicated to ‘improving the craft’ books.
- What inspires you?
One of my younger sisters was absolutely terrified of monsters in her closet and under her bed. Telling her stories of good monsters to get her to sleep when she was younger was a huge inspiration for my current WIP (sorry, Yoshi. I lied. Monsters really do want to eat you). I’ll see horror sketches on Deviantart, quotes while browsing the web, photographs, a snippet of a conversation here or there, work from other writers. There’s a thousand ways to be inspired, it’s just a matter of putting that inspiration to good use.