Magen Toole is an arts student and odd-jobber from Fort Worth, Texas, writing short queer and speculative
fiction. She lives with a cat named Ginger and a turtle named Filbert, both of whom have more say in her life than she does.Her short stories have been featured in Everyday Fiction, Kissed by Venus, Everyday Weirdness and others.
We love Magen's short/flash fiction and she's appeared in two issues of The Suitcase, May 2009 and in the current Winter 2010 issue.
Magen, when did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
When I was seven-years-old, or thereabout. I made a habit of harassing children’s magazines and newspaper writing contests with my short stories, and outlining my memoirs on notebook paper for future generations. By the time I was fourteen, I was sending literary critiques of my favorite comic books to the letter-to-the-editor pages, until they wised up to me and started sending them back unopened. Sometime in my first college semester my English comp. professor said something about doing this for a living. It’s been downhill ever since.
Why do you write?
I don’t have any other real marketable skills, to be perfectly frank. I jumped from degree program to degree program in college, trying to find something to turn into a profitable career. I was determined to do something stupid in a cubicle for forty hours a week, until I felt like I was living a justifiable adult life. It didn’t work out, obviously, so here I am. That’s the practical answer.
The nice, literary answer is that I am a constant observer of the world, both the natural and the manmade. I come up with hypotheses about the things that I see, and I investigate them through fiction until I come up with a fully realized statement. It’s how I process the world, and come to terms with it. I go out looking for questions, and then write until I find the answer. It may not be the right answer, but it’s mine.
Is being a writer anything like you imagined it would be?
I don’t remember not being a writer. It’s difficult for me to imagine life pre-writing, let alone how it would compare to my life now. That said, to be honest I really don’t know what it even means to “be a writer.” It’s just something I’m learning how to do a little bit every day.
What do you think makes a good story?
In my experience, in order to write a good story, you should care about your subject above all else. Examine it from every angle, tease out all the possibilities, determine the best way to pursue it, and then give it hell. Don’t just write it just to sell it, take the time to say something and mean it.
What's your favorite genre to read?
I like to read weird fiction, dark fiction, surreal fiction, scientific study articles, children’s book, mythology books, history books. A little bit of everything.
Who are your favorite authors or poets?
Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, H.P. Lovecraft, William Gibson.
What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
The Waiting by Jorge Luis Borges, Idoru by William Gibson, Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx, and Watchmen by Alan Moore. When I’m stuck on something I’m working on, I always think back to these stories to try and come up with a new way to approach the problem.
What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
I grew up reading comic books, and watching lots of bad television and genre films. Science fiction, horror fiction, super hero fiction, Star Trek and the various permutations therein – those are the things that have informed me as a person. I love how well genre fiction masks its lofty literary and mythological archetypes, and can usually get away with saying interesting things without making the reader feel intimidated or talked down to. It’s something that I really try to strive for in my own work.
Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
Art, photography, film, documentaries, philosophy, the natural sciences, horror movies, science fiction, bad television – a bit of everywhere. I rarely find inspiration in books, which people tell me is strange. I tend to investigate the visual arts and scientific fields for my ideas instead. I don’t have a “muse,” as other people claim to. I hypothesize, develop theories and explore them until I have a complete understanding behind the story I want to tell.
What does your family think of your writing?
They’re all very supportive, and open to debate, which is nice. My youngest brother and I are quite close, and we bounce story concepts, subtext and metaphors off of one another. It’s nice to have that kind of sounding board, because no one is as brutally honest about your bad ideas as your family.
What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I try to steal time in the morning and at night to type up my manuscripts. When I’m at work or away from my computer I keep notebooks with me to write longhand, that way I always stay busy.
Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
I like to watch movies, documentaries and television when I’m writing longhand in my notebook. I just like to have background noise when I’m working, in order to have a steady stream of information to digest. It keeps my brain moving, processing new ideas as I go along. Kind of like how sharks have to keep swimming or they’ll die? That’s basically how my mind works.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Trying to make it the way it is in my head. I come from an arts background in my education, so while writing comes naturally, I never learned the principles in the same rigorous, structured way I had to with art. Every story is like a film in my head, and trying to make literature visual and cinematic is hard because I lack the physical tools to bring it to a screen, canvas, or photograph. I have to improvise, and make the reader see what I’m seeing. It’s frustrating sometimes. It makes me work that much harder on every story, to make sure the finished product is something I can wholly visualize as a reader.
What are your current projects?
I’m working on my first novel at the moment, a dark fiction/psychological horror story called Flesh Trap. It’s about an insomniac library cataloger named Casey, who finds himself at the heart of a peculiar series of disappearances and deaths that are tied to his childhood home, beginning on the twentieth anniversary of his father’s murder. Even as he tries to solve the mystery unfolding around him, Casey is haunted by visions of his father’s corpse, a living reminder of the sins and secrets that Casey still suffers for. He’s either going to find a way to stop it, or he’s going to go mad trying – that is, if his therapist doesn’t kill him first.
What are you planning for future projects?
I’ve been developing a queer literature/romance novel called The Diving Bell for the past few years, which is where the characters Noam Patel and Elliot Townshend from the short stories These Creatures of Habit and The Pea-Coat originate from. I keep coming back to it, writing it out in bits and pieces. One day I’ll finish it.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Don’t let the expectations of others dictate the value of your work. That’s something I had to learn the hard way.
Where else can we find your work?
I’ve been published a little bit of everywhere over the past two years, both online and in print. My website, http://www.eonism.net/, has my complete publishing history, as well as snippets and excerpts from my novel and other projects.