Interview: Amy Sterling Casil, Ron Collins, Michael Libling Part One

Welcome to the first set of interviews. Three writers met with me (via email) and talked about many things. The interview will be posted every Monday for the next few weeks. I (Gillian Polack) am the interviewer, which largely meant throwing in a question and standing well back. The three writers (Amy Sterling Casil, Ron Collins and Michael Libling) are all pretty amazing, but I’ll let them speak for themselves. Let me throw the first of the questions in, to get them started.

Gillian Polack (henceforth, Gillian)

A stranger once asked me to tell them three things about myself. I’ve thought about this often since then, and have discovered that asking writers to tell me three things gives much more interesting replies than asking for a short life history.

1. If you had to explain what you write to that stranger, what would you tell them? (The stranger was French, if it helps.)

2. Imagine a game show (not Squid Game, a poor answer won’t kill you) where you have to describe your writing using five adjectives. The audience buzzes boring words, or predictable words. You don’t want to hear that buzzer. What are your five words?

3. What’s your favourite question about your work, the one you’re always happy for people to ask?


Ron Collins (Ron):

As Mike said in his answer to the first question, “Zut alors! Or, as we say in Quebec, “tabernac!” …Both of which roughly describe my feelings about the answers below…” I keep hearing ‘Tabernac!’ when I read these answers, but, as a response, it doesn’t fit them all. Read on…


1. What do you write?

Amy Sterling Casil (Amy): I’m a female science fiction writer and I now write stories featuring women, girls, and non-human creatures (animals, others, machine life). I also write factual books for children and teens. They’re often about medical, science, or tech topics. And, I write creative nonfiction online via the Medium service. It’s a different type of writing via online. Topics are current and the format is very different from traditional books or short fiction.

Michael Libling (Mike): Most likely, I would pretend I didn’t hear the question and move on to a topic with which I was more at ease. If forced to answer, however, I’d likely blather on like this…

I write stories about everyday life and everyday people, and then drop some freakish element into the mix, which tends to lay waste to the “everyday.” In terms of specifics, I try to avoid the obvious in my pursuit of the “freakish,” thus avoiding vampires, zombies, ghosts, wizards, dragons, and the like. The more unassuming the menace, the more frightening it is to me.

Some editors have told me I write mainstream fiction with a genre sensibility, while others insist my writing is genre fiction with a mainstream sensibility. One long-ago, former agent of mine lamented the fact my work was neither literary nor genre, which made his job too difficult. The way I see it, my fiction tends to cross categories, blending any number of the following at any given time: mainstream, fantasy, horror, mystery, thriller, and science fiction. If there is a unifying factor in my work, it would be the recurrent strains of dark humour.

My upcoming novel (Autumn 2023 from WordFire Press), THE SERIAL KILLER’S SON TAKES A WIFE, was described by one reader as “a breezy spin on horrible things.” Looking back, I think this same description could apply to most of my work.


I used to say that I write speculative fiction, and just left it at that.

Unfortunately, or fortunately I suppose, that’s not really true now. I’ve written twenty or so novels, and nearly 200 short stories, and when I look at them, I see the fact is that I write across pretty much every genre. I’ll chuckle at myself here and admit that I was tempted to end that sentence with “except horror,” but then had to chastise myself because I’ve done several things with at least some elements of horror in them. Bad writer!

Here’s the thing, though. I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t like the default feeling of talking about genre anymore. Yes, I still focus on speculative fiction—science fiction and fantasy and things that go in strange directions—but the reality is that I love story, and that’s what I’m trying to do. Tell stories—hopefully stories that matter to me, filled with characters I can relate to.

I can’t control how people react to those stories, of course. The world is full of opininated people, and I can’t please them all. But these days I figure that if I tell stories that matter to me, I’ll be speaking to an audience that will care about them, too. And if someone doesn’t find them relevant, well, that’s fine. They just aren’t my audience.

So, what matters to me?

That, unfortunately, you’ll need to read some of my work to decide.


2. What are your five words?


Emotional, easy-to-read, eclectic, exciting, and electric

Ron: Hmmm. I think I’m going to get buzzed.

Honestly, I don’t know. I sit down, and whatever comes out comes out. Last week, for example, I went to the writing desk totally intent on writing a science fiction story for a publication I often contribute to, but my brain wouldn’t do that. Instead, it wanted to work on a psychological thriller of a short story that bordered on, yes, horror.

That said, I’m a while male of a certain age, so I’m sure that comes out in ways I couldn’t even begin to describe. To generalize, I guess … hmmm … well, let me at least try to answer the question.

·         Hopeful.

·         Honest

·         Wide-ranging

·         Entertaining.

·         Compassionate

See what I mean? I’m totally getting buzzed.


Mike: With apologies to Amy for my failure to emulate her alliterative triumph.







3. What’s your favourite question about your work, the one you’re always happy for people to ask?

What inspired you to write story ________________ [or essay/article ____________]?


“I love your work, can I give you a check?”


Seriously, in this world where attention spans can be measured in picoseconds, I’m just happy for any attention my writing gets at all. It’s nice when people have read something of mine and ask about where it came from, and it’s nice when people ask where they can get my work—though I admit that since I am so all over the place (and write that way under my one and only name) I often wonder if I send people the right direction.

Most of my email questions seem to center around when the next book in my SF series is coming out, which is good news/bad news since I’ve done a mini-Martin and had a gap. The good news, though, is that the wait is over and the series is back in production.

That’s a problem with being an independent publisher, though. There’s only just me, so when life happens, if I can’t get my feet to the pedals for a period of time, everything grinds to a halt.



Every writer likes to hear, “Where can I buy a copy?” But I also enjoy when a reader asks me, “Did this actually happen? Is that real?” Since much of my writing is grounded in reality and often strays into the autobiographical, I get this a lot. Likewise, I prefer to leave the answer to the question as ambiguous as possible, leading to further speculation.



Three questions is enough for one week! Next week there will be more questions, more answers… and some picture.

Unbuttered Thoughts on Social Media

A few years back, after the news reported all the shenanigans with Facebook and elections, some people I know quit that platform. They were justifiably angry.

Lately, I’ve noticed a number of people on Facebook making self-righteous posts about quitting Twitter. Certainly I share their lack of enthusiasm about Elon Musk.

But if you’re willing to put up with Mark Zuckerberg, why get outraged over Elon Musk? Outside of the fact that Musk makes a point of being a particular kind of super-rich asshole in public, what’s the difference between them? Both platforms have problems and they start at the top.

I don’t know if Twitter is going to survive Musk, but I think Jorts the Cat has a good approach to the current situation:

All jokes aside: I am certain that we will work together to find new and innovative ways to be completely unruly, ridiculous and annoying here. We always do ❤️

[Edited 11-4-22 to add:] Dave Karpf has some excellent observations on the Twitter situation. He had speculated that it would stay unchanged for 1-3 months and be dead in a year. Now he thinks it will change in 1-3 weeks and be dead in six months. Karpf is a  professor at George Washington University who studies the Internet and politics and I only know about him because of Twitter.

I also understand that Facebook (I refuse to call it Meta, because while I always honor individual name changes, I laugh at most corporate ones) is in financial trouble, probably because of its silly foray into virtual reality that is not yet ready for prime time.

The owners of far too many companies don’t understand what their product is about or why their users and customers use them. They are too busy looking at ways to make money in the short term to figure out what it is they’re providing.

I’m pretty sure that how much money can be made from something in the next few months is not a good metric for any product or service, but I digress.

I started out skeptical of social media. In general, I found the internet to be a place to publish things I wrote, to read lots of different work, to do research, and to send letters (that is, email as a substitute for mail). I took to blogs immediately — the reading and writing thing — but the other forms did not attract me.

I signed up for Facebook and Twitter because people told me that was how to promote my writing. Now people tell me I need to use Instagram and TikTok and probably 20 other things I haven’t heard of to promote my work.

But here’s the truth: I don’t think I’ve figured out how to use social media of any kind to promote my writing. Continue reading “Unbuttered Thoughts on Social Media”

What Deborah’s Playing on the Piano

Saturday afternoon, I attended a lovely Hallowe’en student concert at Cabrillo College. Audience was masked, performers masked or PCR tested. So great to hear live music again! One of the pieces was a synthesizer adaptation of Satie’s first Gnossienne, which I’m working on. (It was very weird. Very weird on steroids.) That reminded me it’s been a while since I posted what I’m working on now. For those new to this journey, I’m an adult piano student who began piano lessons 15 years ago, my first ever formal instruction. I’m a grown-up, or so the theory goes, so I get to play what I want.


  • Satie. Gnossienne #1. It’s a hoot. One measure that goes on for pages, with directions like “Postulez en vous-même” (wonder about yourself). Lots of repetition of the motifs with subtle differences of expression.
  • Gillock. “Silent Snow” from Lyric Preludes in Romantic Style. Gillock was primarily a teacher. These short pieces are beautiful and fun to play as they challenge technique. The one I just started requires exquisite control of dynamics and pedaling. Gillock’s pieces are a great prep for composers like Debussy and Satie.
  • A couple of Schubert waltzes. They’re like “bon-bons” or Chopin Lite.
  • “Warg Scouts” from Howard Shore’s music for The Hobbit. The dwarves are running for their lives, Radagast is trying to lure the orcs on their wargs away, and Gandalf is scheming to get his part to Rivendell. Pounding rhythm. Am I nuts? When I looked at the piece, I went, “Ack!! I can’t possibly!!!” So I’m tackling it slowly with the metronome under my teacher’s guidance. Might take a couple of years to get it up to tempo (quarter note = 180, agitated) but it will do wonders for my technique. And be soooo much fun!
  • Bach Invention 14. If I skip a day, it falls apart. Otherwise, I’m focusing on the way the motif bounces back from one hand to the other, detached notes in one hand but legato in the other.
  • Debussy. “Claire de Lune.” Be still, my heart. I’m about a page away from playing it straight through and then we get to work on dynamics, speed, and expression.
When I have time, I work on my past repertoire. Current favorites are “May It Be” (Enya), Debussy’s “La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin,” Satie’s 1st and 3rd Gymnopédies, a transcription of Ashokan Farewell, and a bunch of music from LotR.