eSpec Books interviews Leona Wisoker, contributor to The Society for the Preservation of CJ Henderson, a tribute anthology, http://kck.st/1xu1DH9.
How did you meet CJ Henderson? At MarsCon of Williamsburg, VA. He had a table in the vendors room, and it was full of books, and I tried to walk past—and failed, largely because he loudly invited me to come and talk. I was a newly published author at that point, at my first public appearance as such, and I remember being really scared and intimidated by how many books this guy had written. I also remember that he wouldn’t shut up, that I stopped by his table several times before buying a book, and that I bought a book largely because it seemed unkind, after all that hovering about, to not do so. I remember asking him if he would read a short story of mine and tell me what he thought, and his polite (and detailed) explanation of why he couldn’t do that for anyone. He managed to turn me down in a way that wasn’t too humiliating, which I still appreciate tremendously.
It’s hard to believe, looking back, how very, very scared I was of—well, of everything, at that point. I was in a new, shiny, terrifyingly alien world and I didn’t have the first clue as to what was allowed or expected of me. CJ was one of the few folks I ran into that were over the top brash and irrepressibly energetic; it was so reassuring that I didn’t have to guard every single word I said around him for fear of saying something wrong!
What is your favorite memory of him? This is going to sound weird, because it’s not a good memory, or even a complimentary picture of CJ. I’m not a big fan of the “don’t speak ill of the dead” philosophy, because, yanno, none of us are angels. I don’t think it’s really honoring a person’s memory if all we do is talk about what they did right.
So here goes: At Capclave, a couple of years after I’d met CJ at Marscon, my husband and I encountered CJ coming down the hallway, pushing a luggage cart laden with boxes of books and supplies for the weekend. He was irritated and exhausted; he’d fought through awful traffic, arrived later than he’d planned, wasn’t feeling well; he’d had to restack the cart after several boxes fell off in the parking lot, and to top it all off a dog had just peed on his book boxes. The owner of the dog had not even bothered apologizing, apparently choosing to see it as a funny incident. CJ was in possibly the worst mood I have ever seen him in; there was no cheerfulness left in the man. He was ready to pass out, stroke out, kill someone, or, if possible, all three at once.
Earl and I helped CJ unload, get rid of the urine soaked boxes, cleaned and salvaged what we could (thankfully, only a couple of the books had gotten, err, wet–but a lot of CJ’s food supplies had to be tossed because a juice bottle had busted open when the box fell). We helped him set the table up, brought him water, got him settled and sorted out as best we could, and generally kept an eye on him for the rest of the convention. He never did quite recover his good mood, if I recall correctly; other stuff kept happening that weekend. I think that convention was a rolling disaster, from his point of view.
I’m fond of that memory because it’s such a stark contrast to CJ’s normal behavior. He was a prolific, gregarious, cheerful, determined extrovert, but he had catastrophic bad days like everyone else, and handled himself as badly as the rest of us under the right combination of pressure.
But it took a lot for him to stop smiling and go sour. A lot. Most of us snap under half the pressure he routinely put himself under. Personally, I don’t trust someone if I’ve never seen how they behave when pushed to their breaking point. Strange as it may sound, that day made me like CJ even more.
What can you tell us about your contribution in The Society for the Preservation of CJ Henderson? Shadows of the Infinite was written on my smartphone one night when I couldn’t sleep. The first few lines of the story popped up and starting rolling around in my mind. Being too lazy to trek all the way upstairs, I grabbed my phone. I love using Android’s Swype–dragging my finger across the keyboard to form words–and I’ve gotten really fast with it. I had no idea where the tale was going past the first few lines; this is one of the stories that just sort of happened. I think I finished a bare-bones, heavily narrative first draft in about an hour. I’d intended to just get the first few lines down, to set the distinctive “voice” I was hearing in my head, but I kept wanting to write just one more line. On the final polish, a few days later, I added most of the visual and olfactory details.
It’s the first (but not the last!) story I ever wrote on my phone, and it will always have a special spot in my heart for that reason. It was madly fun to write and to edit.
I will also admit that there is one spot in this story that I don’t like, because I don’t think it’s accurate. It works for the story—in fact it’s almost necessary for maintaining the tone of the story—but folks who knew CJ know that he was devoted to his wife and family. He adored them. I don’t believe he would ever complain about them, no matter how sick he felt or awful things were. I agonized about leaving those couple of lines in, but in the end—like I said, they work. I think CJ would forgive the slight stretch on that basis alone.
Besides, demons were involved…. so we can say he wasn’t really himself, at the time.
Is there anything you have written that was inspired by CJ? I won’t say inspired, exactly, but he pointed out several things that I could do to improve my writing–such as giving more detail to the fight scenes instead of glossing over violent moments. He was strongly disappointed that in Secrets of the Sands I didn’t show Alyea killing Pieas, for example. If I recall, I actually wrote that scene out in greater detail, but never got around to posting it. I’ll have to go dig that piece out of the archives…
CJ was always polite, but definitely opinionated and vocal about his perceptions. I didn’t always agree with him, but he made me stop and think about what he was pointing out, and that’s worth gold for any beginning writer.
What are some of your own works readers can look for? The Children of the Desert series, currently four books with a fifth in progress, can be found at The Scribbling Lion (http://www.thescribblinglion.com). I also have stories in the anthologies Galactic Creatures (Sparkito Press), Sha’Daa: PAWNS (Copper Dog Publishing), and of course the one I just talked about, in the upcoming CJ Henderson Memorial Anthology. I’ve begun a Free Fiction Friday on my own blog (http://www.leonawisoker.com/blog); right now, I have a web serial called Zebra Road in progress. That one is best described as a Peter Beagle/Roger Zelazny mashup concept. I’m posting the raw first draft at this point, in part to let people see what a first draft looks like, and in part to see what response I get from my readers. I really like the crowd-feedback/editing angle to this sort of web serial—I think this approach lets readers get in close and invest in the story more powerfully.
For anyone who wants to know more, I keep my blog fairly well updated with news and events; I’m usually active on Facebook and Twitter, and I try to answer all emails within 48 hours.
Thanks for the opportunity to talk about how CJ impacted my life!
Learn more about the Society for the Preservation of CJ Henderson here: http://kck.st/1xu1DH9
Read an excerpt of Leona’s story here:
Shadows of the Infinite by Leona Wisoker
Leona Wisoker writes speculative fiction, edits, teaches, blogs, and occasionally reviews books, music, and food items. Her work is fueled equally by coffee and conviction. She often chooses reading material alphabetically rather than by subject or author, which has led her to read about aardvarks, birds, child-warriors, dragons, eggs, faeries, ghosts, horses, and many other random subjects.
Leona’s science-fantasy series, The Children of the Desert, is set in a world still struggling through a number of basic moral and developmental issues. The beliefs and strengths of each character are tested to the limit in the course of multiple intersecting story arcs. And, of course, there’s a mysterious ancient race in the background that could destroy all life on earth if they get sufficiently annoyed. Anything less would just be boring.
Her short stories have appeared in Futures: Fire to Fly, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Galactic Creatures anthology, Sha’Da: Pawns anthology, and more. She has lived in Florida, Connecticut, Oregon, New Hampshire, Las Vegas, Alaska, California, and Virginia; has experienced the alternate realities of Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona, New York, Long Island, and Italy; and believes that “home is wherever my coffee cup is filled.”
She lives in Virginia with an extraordinarily patient husband and two large dogs.