Interview with author Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Posted: May 17, 2013 in Books, Interviews, Writers
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AckleyDanielle Ackley-McPhail is an author and editor of the award-winning Bad-Ass Faeries anthologies. So what is Bad-Ass Faeries? Basically, it’s an attempt by Ackley-McPhail and her collaborators to revive the original depiction of fairies in old folklore, where they were far more likely to be dangerous and scary than sparkly and cute. I reviewed her novel The Halfling’s Court here.

Can you talk a little bit about your personal background, and how you got into writing?

I am the youngest of five children. By the time I grew up, most of them had already moved on to their adult lives. We lived in a brand-new housing development so there weren’t many kids. Consequently, I turned to reading for entertainment. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on … to my occasional detriment. Eventually I was so comfortable with the written word and storytelling that becoming a writer was a natural progression I didn’t even need to think about.

What exactly is the whole Bad Ass Faeries phenomenon, and how did it come about?

This series is our attempt to de-Disneyfy the faerie. Basically the concept came out of a chance encounter with an artist and a failed author event. I met Ruth Lampi at Albacon, where she showed me her sketches for warrior faeries. They were just pencil drawings, many of them on lined paper, but they were really good. I ended up commissioning Ruth to work on a number of projects with me. We had a local event at a friend’s store and the timing was bad. It conflicted with some other event going on and not many people showed up. We sat there for most of the day entertaining each other. During the conversation the question came up of how we met. That topic lead to speculating about the sad state of faeries in fiction, which lead to an anthology proposal of tough faeries that were more in line with the actual legends. From that, Bad-Ass Faeries was born!

Do you feel you’re correcting some mistaken perceptions people have about faerie lore? And could you talk a little bit about that lore?

Oh, most definitely! Up until very recently … say the last ten years, faeries had for the most part been pacified by popular media. Not by everyone, but by the majority. See, in traditional faerie lore and legend the fae were mischievous, malevolent, or warriors. Very few were kind or sweet. They were known for stealing children and tormenting livestock, for tricking travelers and murderous deeds. Yes, a few did helpful things, but the fae were to be respected because you never knew which way things would go. Literature and the media had for the most part lost respect for them.

What’s the reaction been to the Bad Ass Faeries books?

Oh my … talk about can-of-worms. They either love it or hate it … I get broad smiles or disapproving frowns, but seldom anything in between. It is by far our best-selling anthology to date, with thousands of copies sold just in the first year. It is the first book of mine that has a public awareness all its own.

In recent years, it seems fairies have become kind of a hot topic. There are festivals and even magazines devoted to them, and they’re popping up all over the place in speculative fiction. Do you think there’s any particular reason for this renewed interest?

Well, all things go in cycles and I think this just the faerie cycle. The primary genre characters never do go away, really, but the audience gets tired of it and moves to the next one in a perpetual circuit. The same goes with vampires and shapeshifters and zombies … anything with a cult following eventually gets another shot at the spotlight. Besides, people are rediscovering their sense of magic and wonder, and where best to turn than to the fae?

I know that some fairy aficionados prefer their wee folk on the benign and cuddly side. Has the Bad Ass series drawn any appalled responses from that crowd?

You know, I get more negative comments about it being too tame. Of course, I already mentioned those disapproving looks we get from time to time strictly in reaction to the title. But for the most part people either pick it up because it’s fun, or because it promises something they are looking for, so there has been a lot more positive response. Even the children’s education director at my church just thought it was funny, more than anything else.

When you’re writing about the nature and capabilities of the fairies, about how much of that is invention on your part, vs. elements lifted directly from the folklore?

For me it depends on the series. A lot of my fiction deal with the faerie folk. The Eternal Cycle series, which are my Irish novels, stick pretty close to the legends, with the inventiveness coming in just to fill in the gaps left by lost knowledge since the Celts had an oral tradition. On the other hand, my biker faerie novels, the Halfling’s Court and the Redcaps’ Queen, based on my short stories in the Bad-Ass Faeries series, are a bit more inventive since I’m not drawing on any particular legends there. Of course, I do use details from the myth and legend when I mention something specific, like Avalon. With everything I write, though, I tend to extrapolate from the information available and get creative from there. You would be surprised how often I find research later that substantiates things I thought I made up!

What are some of the things you’ve done to market your books?

Well, for the Bad-Ass Faeries anthologies specifically I commissioned faerie themed art for raffles I held at the launch party for each book. I also made faerie wings by hand for my street team to wear as they passed out flyers and tons of pixy styx. Eventually I created a dedicated website and a blog specific to the series and grab every promotional opportunity I could get. In fact, for about the last five years I’ve volunteered as a story teller at the Maryland Faerie Festival and I was a part of the very first Faeriecon, Faerieworlds annual East Coast convention.

Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to discuss?

Dark Quest Books just released The Redcaps’ Queen, the second of my Bad-Ass Faerie Tale novels, as well as Three Chords of Chaos, by James Chambers, the third book in the series that originated from stories that appeared in the Bad-Ass Faeries anthologies. Speaking of which, in the beginning of June we will resume production on the fourth Bad-Ass Faeries anthology, titled It’s Elemental, where the theme is all faeries affiliated with one of the five elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit. That should be out sometime in 2014.

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