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A Chat with Tirzah Duncan


Welcome back to Interview Corner, everyone! ^-^ It’s time for the first interview of the year, and this week Tirzah Duncan is here to talk about her novella Grace the Mace!

Tirzah is a lover of fantasy, a cynical optimist, a Wholockian, and generally a weird person (in her own words – we don’t judge here!)

Hi Tirzah, and welcome to Cookie Break! Congratulations on publishing your novella Grace the Mace. That’s a huge achievement!

Could you tell us a little about your book? No spoilers, please! 😉

Some rival gangs, a young mercenary, her oblivious mother, and a cop walk into a bar…

Heh, okay, I’m not so good with the off-the-cuff descriptions. Here’s the actual blurb:

Grace has always been there for her mother, ever since she was old enough to bite the legs of those thugs and leeches that called themselves lovers. Ever since she was old enough to understand the world in a way her mother never would.

Now, she comes home every winter with blood money from a year of running with a band of sellswords. No more scrounging in midden heaps and cutting purses for a low court lord to survive the lean months.

But this year, home is as dangerous as the battlefield. Tensions are running through the street courts of her old slums, while a new and daunting lover has confounded her safeguards and gotten at her mum–and now they’re all tangled in a vicious turf war.

Is one lone mercenary enough to protect her own? Can she trust anyone else to do the job?

Would you mind sharing an excerpt with us, or a favourite quote?

“She wished she were on the battlefield, where everything dropped away except the moment and the next moment, the movement and the next movement. There was no fear, then, only the fight. It was a clean thing, she felt, whole, simple, a world unto itself. Here, there was the fight, but there were too many old emotions tangled in the weave. There was the future to think of, there was the past to haunt her. Killing and surviving were far easier than living.”


Do you remember what sparked the idea for Grace the Mace?

It’s been a long background evolution, actually. In the beginning, I was better acquainted with Weylah, her mother. I knew Grace was loyal to her mother, was a graceful young flail-wielding mercenary, and got on fairly well in the world… aaannnd I also thought she was a he.

For four years, while working on other projects, I wondered why I could never get under the layers of Grace the Mace! Then one day, it hit me. I’d had the gender wrong all along. The name should have been a clue, right? But no, I’d been stupid. At that point, the whole story came flooding in with such a vengeance, I can’t even remember the order in which the other pieces came together.

What are you working on right now?

A collaboration with one Danielle E. Shipley (I did an interview with the lovely Danielle only last month, if you remember) in a genre that’s a bit tough to identify… Let’s call it a “High Seas Literary Bromance.” It’s got terrifying pirate queens, a poetry club in a bilge, torture and intrigue, desire and restraint, the war of man with his own darkest self, and most importantly, a couple of amazing guys who overcome all the odds to become besties for life.

What draws you to the genre you write in? Have you always been drawn to it?

I tend to write in fantasy worlds, whether or not I’m dealing heavily with the magical and the mythical. It’s always been my favorite to read—I fell a bit in love with old-school warfare at quite a young age, and I’ve never been able to ditch swords, spears, cavalries, old-fashioned naval galleys and galleons… And as almost every one of my works contains at least one fight scene, if not an all-out battle, it makes sense that I’d favor the genre in which warfare most engages me.

Who/what is your writing inspiration?

C.S. Lewis. I want to be him when I grow up. Not in style, exactly (I more favor Tamora Peirce, and, I hope, Samuel Shellabarger,) but in the way one can read Lewis’s heart and mind in his writings. I want to be to others what he has been to me, and to so many. In his fantasy, in his allegory, and in his theological essays—all of which I want to write—I find ideas transcending the written word. His paragraphs reach from hell to heaven in a great latticework of hope, and if that’s not an inspiration, I don’t know what is.

…However, he’s not that much of a “get ‘er done” inspiration. He started many of his works later in life, and seemed to proceed at a relatively languid pace. If I’m looking for inspiration to write, not “great things in my lifetime,” but “lots of things TODAY,” I turn to Hamilton, the Broadway musical. The songs, the story, the man behind the writing of the musical, and the man Alexander Hamilton himself, all drive me forward to write like tomorrow won’t arrive.

What do you do if inspiration just won’t come?

I’ve got this document called the “Slag Pile.” I bring it up and write whatever I can. Seriously, whatever I can. Sometimes this means writing a section of a novel that I’m not confident about, so I can stop second guessing myself because “It’s not in the real manuscript.” Sometimes it means stream-of-consciousness journaling, or spit-balling for a blog post or novel concept. But when the going gets tough, it stoops lower than that.

One time, I wrote about different 400 words in a row that all started with “B.” It gets that desperate. But allowing myself to write literally anything (it doesn’t even have to be real words,) will often drag me through the slump and out the other side. And if it doesn’t… well, I tried.

Which part of the writing process is your favourite, and which part do you dread?

My favorite part is any part that’s going smoothly at the moment. It can be in the concept stages, the first draft, the editing, or in watching someone read it—if it’s going well, and everything’s coming together, I love it. However, I can find hang-ups and slow days and gnarly problems at any step in the process. Those aren’t fun whether you’re brainstorming or trying to get someone to explain why that one section didn’t sit well with them.

What is your number one distraction?

Everything. Seriously, I’ve got to be one of the most distractable writers ever. I’ll get distracted by my own brain wanting to gossip with itself, by the internet, or by a different project jumping into the middle of the first… In fact, I was in the middle of writing a section in my novel when I decided to work on answering these interview questions instead.

Fortunately for me, I do jump in and out of a work easily. I’ve been known to go back and forth between a Facebook conversation and a story, one paragraph at a time, with neither suffering for it. (I think.)

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

It depends on how involved the story in question ends up being. I tend to be more of a pantser, but if my stories get convoluted and clever and political, I usually have to step back and give it an outline just so I don’t forget who my triple agent is really working for. Or if I’m working on a collaboration! If you want people to be on the same page with you, there’s sort of got to be a page.

Tea or coffee?

Absolutely! As a preventative measure against caffeine dependence, I don’t keep any coffee at home, though. To make up for that, I’ve got an entire cupboard full of teas of every stripe. Loose leaf, bagged, with nothing, with honey, with milk and sugar, and occasionally, iced. I mix it up; I don’t like ruts.

What are the most important three things you’ve learned about writing, editing or publishing (or all of the above!) since you started your journey?

Just three? Whoof! I’ll go with one point for each category, then.

Writing: You’ve got to do it. You’ve got to do a lot of it. Write new things, re-write old things, but you’ve got to write stories. It’s like every other art, and indeed, every other pursuit, in that you’ll never be an expert if you don’t log serious amounts of time. What about reading? Yes, of course, read the books you love, study them. What about reading writing books and taking courses? Sure, sure, brilliant; there are some writing books I absolutely love, and I’ve learned some really valuable lessons from them. But none of those can ever replace simply putting in the hours.

Editing: Know that your work can always be better. There are two things to take away from that statement. The first—be humble. Be analytical. Listen to feedback. Be as objective as you can. You’re probably going to have to do some hard things for the sake of ‘better,’ but it isn’t perfect just because you love it. Learn, if you can, to revel in performing manuscript surgery, because you’re going to have a lot of tumorous growths, and just as many missing organs.

The second—because your work can always be better, you can spend your whole life editing and never publish anything. You don’t want to do that. (Right? I’m guessing, here.) This is something I’ve only recently come to terms with. The trouble is that, as soon as you finish a work, you’re a better writer than when you started it. Which means you could do a better job if you did it over again. At the end of which, you would be a better writer than when you started… You have to find the point at which you can just say, “You know what, I’m proud of this. Yes, it could be better. But you know what it is now? Great.”

Publishing: You’re a marketer now. You better act like it. Getting published is fairly easy. Selling, that’s the hard part. Even if you’re picked up by a traditional publisher, these days, they want you to have your own social media platforms. Whether you like it or not, you’re now a salesman for your book, and for a long time, you’re probably the only salesman for your book. I’m really sorry if you don’t like marketing, because unless you have the budget to hire someone to market for you, the number of people who buy and read your book will ride on the success of your personal marketing efforts.

As to what “marketing” entails, that’s a litany too long to list here, but it includes things like having a clear website, maintaining a blog, building social networks both on and offline, going to conventions, hosting giveaways, hawking your book to reviewers, and—why, yes, finding bloggers kind enough to grant you an interview. 🙂

What’s your favourite quote on writing?

“To find the form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.”

-Samuel Beckett

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

“You go, girl!” Maybe it sounds like encouragement, but if you think about it, it’s also really great advice. I get that one a lot from my mom. And I’ll give it to all of you now.


(If you’re not a girl, you can still totally go, but my advice stands as it is.)

Where else can we connect with you?

My website will take you to my book’s sales links, my WordPress blogs, and my Tumblr. It’s also got some free short stories and poetry, so have at ye!

Thank you, Tirzah, for stopping by! You can find her book here on Amazon 🙂


For all other interviews, take a look here.

For Cookie Break’s home page, have a look here.

Published inInterviewsUncategorized

One Comment

  1. Another wonderful interview! I love the sound of this book and I’ll definitely be checking it out!
    Thank you ladies 🙂

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