Friday, January 5, 2024

Novella Project: A. Z. Louise Interview

Today for the novella project we're speaking to A. Z. Louise:

A.Z. Louise is a lover of birds, a writer of words, and a believer in the healing powers of peppermint tea. After leaving their job as a civil engineer, they took up poetry and fiction instead, but they still harbor a secret love of math. Links to their work can be found at

For your recent novella Off-Time Jive, was it a conscious decision to write in that format, or something that happened as part of the process? How do you make that decision when you write?

This is a great question because I didn't expect to write a novella at all! OTJ was a rare project where I was so excited to get started that I didn't stop to outline first. I was about a quarter of the way in when I realized that it wanted to be a novella rather than a novel, so I had to reframe how I was thinking about the project. Usually when it comes to length, that shakes out during my outlining process as I start to dive deeper into the plot and see what kind of legs my concept has.

Following on from this though - what would be your one sentence pitch version for OTJ? And where did the idea of it spring from?

OTJ is the story of a semi-hardboiled detective who must investigate the death of a former colleague in a secret world of magic set in the Harlem Renaissance.

The concept for this book came from a lot of places, including spite, desire to write a magic system that was exclusively vibes based, and my own personal experiences of depression and disability.

I love a vibes based magic system, although it seems to run counter to a lot of what I'm seeing in the books I read at the moment, which is a shame. What's the appeal of keeping things more loose and intuitive like that for you, and how do you make it feel plausible when writing?

I like this type of magic because it feels less restrictive to me than magic that has measurable costs or a lot of rules. I do enjoy reading that type of magic system but it's not my favorite to write, so I needed to decide what appealed to me about reading them and make that fun to write.

What I landed on is that the core of cost and rules is effort. Effort makes things feel real and important! When I'm writing magic that's all vibes, I try to make sure that there's still some kind of effort involved. In OTJ, the main character's magic is based on Black joy. When you're going through something difficult like Knox is, finding true joy isn't easy, but much like the magic she performs, it's worth the effort.

Moving out a step - how did OTJ come to be with Neon Hemlock? And how did you find the process of getting something published through a small press?

This is a book I racked up a ton of rejections on! I was on the verge of giving up when I saw that Neon Hemlock was looking for novellas. I'd had some short fiction pubbed with them in the past, and dave really got what I was going for with my work.

So far I feel like publishing with a small press is a really nice middle ground. It's more structured than self-publishing (I'm someone who really needs deadlines) but it feels less bureaucratic and glacially-paced than traditional publishing.

I suppose with Neon Hemlock specifically they have their annual novella cycle pretty down at this point, so they know how to get things moving.

In terms of how the process with them worked for you, did you have much involvement in the cover design at all, and was this something that mattered a lot to you? And did that lack of bureaucracy feel like it generally translated to more involvement and input from you on how the end product novella turned out?

I definitely got chances to take a peek at sketches and mockups and give thoughts! The cover was really important to me, but I also really wanted to be open to anything because Neon Hemlock always has such amazing covers. Trusting the process felt really crucial, and while I'm sure the fact that Neon Hemlock is a small press helped at least a little, I think it was more down to the fact that I'd worked with dave before.

They absolutely do - I don't think I've seen a Neon Hemlock cover so far that wasn't gorgeous (and yours is no exception there).

Was there anything else about the process of working with them that you found particularly good or interesting, or advice you'd give someone going into working with a small press for the first time to help it all go smoothly?

Thank you!

I think something that could be an upside or a downside of small presses is having direct contact with the editor! If you're someone who likes to keep an open line with whoever you're working with, it's a huge plus. I always worry that I'm bothering people too much whenever I send an email, so that took some getting used to.

My biggest piece of advice from my experience with a small press is to ask questions and learn their strengths so you can really make the relationship work for everyone. In my case, I'm just the worst at promo and putting myself out there, and I learned really quickly that Neon Hemlock does a great job with promo! I made it my mission to getting comfortable with that so it could be a team effort.

Moving slightly away from the press side of things, do you read novellas yourself? If so, what do you enjoy about them as a reader, and what makes a satisfying one for you?

I ADORE novellas. I get really bad eye strain, so short reads and audiobooks are my lifelines. Something I love about them is that they're a great place to experiment, so they can get super weird! I like a well-encapsulated story in my novellas, but I also enjoy endings that leave me unsettled or wondering.

And as a secondary question - were there any novellas (or other fiction) that were inspirational to you in your work? Or ones you think more people really ought to read?

I find that a lot of my inspiration doesn't come from books, but other forms of art. It's extremely weird, but a huge influence on OTJ was Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Dixon Hill detective episodes were my first ever exposure to the concept of a hardboiled noir detective, and that crept into OTJ in a lot of ways.

I definitely recommend Jordan Kurella's novella I Never Liked You Anyway, and the work of Premee Mohamed.

Are there any things you hope to see in the near future when it comes to the novella scene? Trends, genres, themes, that sort of thing?

I always hesitate to make wishes or predictions about books because one person can only read so much, and I get a lot of my books from my local library. I'm always super behind the trends! My main wish for novellas is to see even more love for indie/self-published work in the future.

And last question, can you tell us a little more about OTJ

Off-Time Jive is a celebration of queer Black joy wrapped in fantasy noir and set against the backdrop of the Harlem Renaissance.

It is published by Neon Hemlock.

Thank you A. Z.!