The following is an interview with R. J. Howell, author of the short story “Fragarach,” which appears in Neon Druid: An Anthology of Urban Celtic Fantasy (available now on Amazon in digital and paperback).
1) What inspired you to write your Neon Druid story, “Fragarach”?
Primarily, the open call. I stumbled across the posting on Duotrope calling for submissions for a Celtic urban fantasy anthology. I’d just finished writing the first Clay Atwater story which was, unfortunately, a novella and far too long, so I sat on it. A few days before the deadline, I’d been browsing fantasy images on Pinterest, looking for future inspiration, and I’d come across an image of a guy holding a glowing sword in one hand and a cell phone in the other. Somehow in my brain, this connected with the Clay story and premise of being challenged to find random objects by an ankou (seriously, it’s the most episodically designed story and world I’ve ever written so far and it came about by total accident). I Googled mythical swords in Irish mythology (not quite sure why I chose Irish, but I did) and—well, boom. I started writing and it just kept flowing.
Much to my shock, I managed to finish it before the deadline.
2) What’s something that always seems to pop up in the stories you write?
This is… a level of self-reflection I rarely (if ever) contemplate. Um. Hm. There’s almost always a speculative fiction element—for some reason, I just struggle to find stories without one interesting enough to motivate me to write them. Lately, a lot of my writing has a lot of dead people in it—ghosts, vampires, zombies, sometimes just… people who’ve died. Or been murdered. I have a surprising amount of murder going on…
3) Which book/story has had the biggest influence on your writing?
*long slow whistle* Just one?
Because I read a lot, and I’ve been sitting on this question now for well over a month, unsure how I could possibly answer it, I’m going to narrow this to just “biggest influence on the writing of this story.” Kate Griffin’s A Madness of Angels. Urban fantasy at its finest (in my humble opinion).
4) Excluding your Neon Druid story, what piece of writing are you most proud of, and why?
For simplicity’s sake, let’s go with what I’m most proud of that’s published, since my honest answer would have to be “whatever it was I just finished.” I’d have to say the honor would go to the first story I sold, “Jack Monohan, P.I. (Deceased)” which had a very strange journey to publication. I’d assumed it was, by far, the most unpublishable story for oh-so-many reasons and yet… it found a home. It’s rather old at this point but it’s still the first story someone else paid me for and the first time my writing was ever in an actual book. (Link: Unearthly Sleuths)
5) What do you do when you’re NOT writing?
Other than reading, I (casually) game (PC is my console of choice). I’m also an illustrator; my preferred medium is digital painting (though I often doodle with pen, pencil, and copier paper, usually in the margins of manuscripts and work documents). Oh, and occasionally the baking-bug infects me, usually after binge-watching the newest season of The Great British Baking Show, and I try my hand at pastries, pies, and chocolate, the spoils of which are given as (friendly) sacrifice to my coworkers at the library.
6) What writing project(s) are you currently working on?
In the long term, I’m trudging my way through a secondary-world fantasy, buddy-cop murder-mystery novel (say that five times fast!) with magic, gangsters, pseudo-gods, and memory-hoarding dragons. I’m also actively querying my last novel, an urban fantasy noir set in Chicago about immortal draugr, secret societies, assassination plots, political back-stabbery, and some really awful superpowers (truth-dowsing via migraines! What fun!)
Thanks, R. J.!
R. J. Howell is a writer, an artist, and a library assistant. She holds a BA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago and is currently working toward her MFA in Popular Fiction at Stonecoast. Her short fiction has been published in JayHenge Publishing’s Unearthly Sleuths and Unrealpolitik anthologies. She’s a firm believer in living a life well-read.