Dawn Vogel Author Interview
Delving into the crossing of history and science fiction, writing website upkeep, and what the concepts MerMay and Drawlloween are
Dawn Vogel has written for children, teens, and adults, spanning genres, places, and time periods. More than 100 of her stories and poems have been published by small and large presses. Her specialties include young protagonists, siblings who bicker but love each other in the end, and things in the water that want you dead. She is a member of Broad Universe, SFWA, and Codex Writers. She lives in Seattle with her awesome husband (and fellow author), Jeremy Zimmerman, and their herd of cats. Visit at historythatneverwas.com or on Twitter @historyneverwas.
Dawn is also the author of the poem “Seven Secrets” from Radon Issue 1.
We see you chose in 2022 to focus on short fiction. Do you approach the craft of writing differently when writing short vs. long fiction?
Definitely! When you're writing long, you've got a lot more room for multiple plots/subplots, a bigger cast of characters, and a lot more high and low points. When writing short fiction, it usually involves one main plot and MAYBE a subplot, and the cast of characters is more compact. For me, it also means I can work on a lot more and on different projects, rather than being tied to a single project for a longer period. The way my brain works, that's very much a good thing!
You have an expansive blog on your website—how would you describe your goals and thoughts regarding blogging?
I've been blogging on my author website for about six years. (I've had other blogs prior to that which I abandoned.) My goal is to have a platform that is entirely mine, where people can keep up on what I'm doing, get my take on writing advice, and learn about other cool things they might be interested in. In some ways, blogs have given way to newsletters (and I just started a newsletter in 2022). But I like having a regularly updated blog in addition to the monthly newsletter, which hits just the highlights.
How does the intersection of history and science fiction coalesce in your work?
When I combine history and science fiction, it typically winds up being related to anthropology or archaeology, because I work with archaeologists as part of my day job. What they do has infected my subconscious, which has led to a couple of my stories. I most often mash up history with fantasy, though. In those cases, I like to find odd bits of history and think about how a supernatural element could explain or compliment a historical event. My favorite of these is in my story, "Veli tis Artemidos," which is about the murder of a sheriff in a lawless part of Oklahoma in the nineteenth century. So many bullets were fired into this man that there was no real way of telling who the murderer was (and that may have been the point). But I thought about how someone might inspire an entire town to turn against their sheriff, maybe with a little help from the gods of their homeland.
Are there differences to how you approach poetry and prose? Which comes most easily?
For me, I can usually look at an idea and decide if it will lend itself better to poetry or prose. If it's poetry, I often will dash off a draft quickly, and then let it percolate a bit to see how I can improve it. But sometimes, if I'm working within the constraints of a form (which I mostly do for the challenge of it), it can take a lot more work to get everything just right. For prose, I need research, a semblance of an outline, and character names. (You'd be amazed how many of my stories get held up by not having the character names figured out.) So in order of ease it's free verse, then prose, and then form poetry.
Do you have a particular method for how you go about submitting works to outlets? Do you keep things organized, or do you go with the flow?
I am super organized in terms of keeping track of my stories and poems, where they've been, and where they might someday go. It’s generally based on sending things to the appropriate high-paying markets first, and then working my way down in pay rates. That doesn't mean I always follow that last aspect to the letter, though—if I am looking for a home for a piece and something jumps out at me as a great fit, I might diverge from my normal market order to give my piece a better home!
In 2021 you published your second dystopian book, Barren. How was your experience publishing through Seattle indie publisher, DefCon One?
The entire experience was really fantastic. Barren started out as a short story, but everyone kept telling me it needed to be longer. So I started adding more elements to the world until I came up with a bigger story with enough subplots to fill it out. It took a while for everything to come together, but once it did, everything went really smoothly.
It appears you also routinely publish work through DefCon One, with four releases in 2022 alone. How is the author-publisher relationship holding up under such a rapid-fire schedule?
Part of the secret to my success with DefCon One is that I am part of the production team for the press, alongside my husband. I currently do the editing, social media, and some art direction, along with all the scheduling. So I'm able to do a lot of books under a rapid-fire schedule because I know what our capacity is and how to stagger the production so we're generally only working at one book at a time. It gets a little more complex when we add books that I didn't write to the production schedule, but we've managed to make it work pretty well! It's also a far cry from the year when we pumped out five or six books in about a two-month span, in order to have a bunch of new titles at a big convention in Seattle, that's for sure! (That's also how we have such a good sense of our REASONABLE capacity!)
On your author site you run a weekly writing prompt series. Tell us more about the series and if these prompts have been the genesis for any of your work we are seeing published now?
I started writing up my lists of monthly prompts exactly to give myself prompts for the coming month. Over time, I expanded the monthly prompt list to be three prompts for each day of the month, and I also added in assorted other prompts (images, lists of prompts from others, or just a weird or interesting way to generate prompts of your own) on other Fridays. MerMay and Drawlloween are two of my favorite creative prompt lists from the art world, and I've adapted and used those as writing prompts. I did Drawlloween the first time in 2018, and I've published almost all of the pieces I started writing in that October. My first MerMay was 2020, and my collection, What If I'm a Merfolk? came almost entirely from the poetry I wrote that May. There are still a lot of scraps that I've got in my future story files that are inspired by the prompts from one of those months or other of my prompts—in fact, the current short story I'm writing is based on one of the prompts from Drawlloween 2018! It's just taken me a long time to really get the story solidly in my head!
What are MerMay and Drawlloween?
MerMay (mermay.com) is a list of prompts related to merfolk and other creatures of the ocean. The list goes up in April, and folks create related pieces in the month of May. One of the things I write a lot about is "things in the water that want you dead.” So this is a perfect prompt for me!
Drawlloween is an alternative to Inktober, which ran into some issues between the creator of the prompt list and those who used it to create art that was unfavorable to the artists. I learned about Drawlloween primarily through Mab Graves' Instagram (@mabgraves). She posts her prompts in September for folks to use during the month of October. I like her prompts in particular because they're an interesting mix of traditional Halloween subjects and more unusual ideas, which works very well for not winding up with thirty-one Halloween-themed stories or poems!
What are you most excited for publishing-wise in 2023? Any upcoming projects?
I've got plans to release five new collections in 2023, including a collection of post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories and poetry that might be of most interest to Radon's readers. But the one I'm most excited about is the third volume of Unfixed Timelines, which is my series of collections featuring both a fantastical or alternate history piece paired with a short essay on the history that I've altered or twisted in my story. In addition to the third volume in e-book format, I'll also be releasing a print omnibus of all the stories and essays from the first two volumes and this third volume!