Write Here, Write Now: Mistress of the House of Books by Matthew Daniels

In Season 2 of Write Here, Write Now: A Vocal Podcast, host Erica Wagner interviews winners of the Vocal+ Fiction Awards

By Write Here, Write Now: A Vocal PodcastPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 5 min read

Matthew Daniels puts a new spin on job interviews with “Mistress of the House of Books.” With a heavenly interviewee, the power dynamics are bound to be flipped. But there are some roles in this world that just can’t be reversed.

What was the impetus for your winning story? Walk us through your initial act of creation.

Okay, three parts to that: it came from some personal flair, elaborate structural ambitions, and a specific submission opportunity.

When I first heard of Seshat, Egyptian goddess of the library, I instantly knew this was a figure I wanted to use in my writing. My Masters degree is in the field of Library and Information Science and I’ve always loved libraries. I couldn’t get work in the field, and I’m an absurdist. That’s the personal flair for the idea of a library goddess in a job interview.

The ambitions came from the fact that I’m something of an experimental writer. First, I wanted to take the hero’s journey in reverse order. I’m talking about the journey as described by Joseph Campbell in *Hero of a Thousand Faces*. Second, I’d encountered somewhere online that there’s a structure specifically associated with “literary” stories. I’ll have to talk elsewhere about that, as the whole concept of “literary” isn’t used well and often makes many faulty assumptions. Anyway, I wanted my story to blend both of these structural ideas.

Fitting character and plot into this structure in the space of a short story was quite a challenge!

Finally, there was the initial submission opportunity. My publisher, Engen Books, has an annual short story anthology series titled *X from the Rock*, where X is a topic or genre. Examples include *Flights from the Rock* (celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first trans-Atlantic flight) and *Dystopia from the Rock*. My first draft of “Mistress of the House of Books” was written as an entry for *Mythology from the Rock*.

It was rejected.

I went on to edit and re-think the story, re-submitting to various contests and venues before deciding that I wanted it among my Vocal creations. This tale has had quite a journey!

What does it take for a story to grab you? How do you grab your audience?

1. Grabbing me:

This is going to sound weird, but my knee-jerk response is “imagery.” I don’t just mean description, or anything physical or sensory. An emotional image is a frame of time in which you feel something deeply. A poetic image brings you to a whole new level of expression, even if the thing you’re expressing isn’t new. A story grabs me when it challenges how I see things, captures my experience, or is so true to itself that it becomes like a living thing.

2. Grabbing my audience:

My undergrad was in English and I’m neurodivergent, so I can get a bit heady. I’ve been struggling to express myself and understand others all my life. It helps to dump my complicated stuff in separate files and then look for ways to keep it simple while still being true to the feeling, intention, or events I’m trying to cover. Never talk down to a reader, but make them feel like they’re on the tip of the iceberg.

Who are your favorite writers and why? Do you have any favorite Vocal Creators?

1. Favourite writers:

I’m almost scared to answer, as there are so many who’ve influenced me or who I might forget to mention. I’ll try to keep it simple. Guy Gavriel Kay, a fantasist and fellow Canadian, often makes a study of mythologies and other cultures before creating incredible novels. If I had to pick one novelist I wanted to emulate, it would be him.

Tolkien. I’m a fantasist, what can I say? He was also a philologist and linguist, and language is a big area of interest to me. Polyglots (people who speak several languages) have always fascinated me, and language play is a great way to get my attention.

Ursula K. LeGuin and Anne McCaffrey, for so many reasons. Naomi Novik because dragons. Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, whose *Death Gate Cycle* I read around the time I decided I wanted to be a writer. Brandon Sanderson for his brilliant use (and deconstruction) of tropes. Brad Dunne. Ali House. Okay, I’ll stop. OH! Patrick Rothfuss. Okay, really, I’ll stop now.

2. Favourite Vocal Creators:

There’s some truly impressive stuff coming out of Vocal communities. I haven’t scratched the surface, and I can’t wait to explore more to find out what’s out there. So far, here are my favourites:

Kaitlyn Maura. Astrology has appeal for fantasy writing, and I’ve learned a great deal from her cogent and accessible posts on the subject.

Neal Litherland. My interests include *Dungeons & Dragons*, video games, and martial arts – all things he’s posted about. He makes interesting points and shares information that’s just a little off the beaten path, which is my jam.

Erin Shea. Her work is compelling, she keeps it real, and she’s shared valuable insights on the realities of people who struggle with chronic illness.

Shamona Pretz. She covers a wide array of useful, unusual, and entertaining stories and subjects. Her representation of fan fiction was an important stance, and I regret not having gotten into it when I was younger. She talks publishing platforms, video games, and other media – as well as some true-to-life material.

My most recent discoveries are Melissa Ingoldsby and Teresa Renton. Looking forward to delving into more of their work!

How has sharing your writing in life and on Vocal affected you as a Creator?

The responses and feedback I get from readers, editors, submission opportunities like New York City Midnight, friends, and my partner have been surprising, educational, and encouraging – if sometimes painful. When you’ve done something you feel is truly inspired and no one made the connections or understood the message, that can be disappointing.

Vocal has been a fascinating study in the communities of online writers. We want to connect, and the expansions I’ve been seeing into social media are more than just beating the drum with “Buy my art!” It’s about shared passion, doubts, hopes, and arts.

Overall, my writing journey – both in general and specifically on Vocal – has challenged my comfort zone, inspired me to search for what I really want from my art, and helped me grow personally and artistically. I ticked my first year at Vocal in March; can’t wait to see what the next year will bring.

What advice do you have for other Creators?

First, and I acknowledge it’s a cliché: Don’t give up! As I mentioned above, “Mistress of the House of Books” was rejected many times and saw several in-depth re-writes before I had the honour of joining Vocal’s inaugural Fiction+ collection.

Second, I am currently in the process of totally starting over as a writer. I plan to write a post about that in the coming weeks. What I’m getting at is: don’t be afraid to re-examine why you’re here. Be true to yourself and don’t lose the joy of art in your search for the “right way” to do things.

Third, successful art is art that has been created. Never lose sight of that.

Finally, writing is an organic process. You grow with the industry, your readers, your critics, and all the feedback you receive. No matter how much it offends you or how much you disagree with it, embrace feedback. Look for ways of looking at things differently. Read incessantly, write avidly, and let the process entrance you.

Good luck and have fun!

Stay tuned for new episodes of Write Here, Write Now Season 2 launching weekly.


About the Creator

Write Here, Write Now: A Vocal Podcast

Sex, death, relationships, nature, families... If you like to stop, think and consider things a little differently, join host Erica Wagner as she introduces a new Vocal creator’s story each week.

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Comments (7)

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  • Gobi Munusamyabout a year ago

    Congratulations on top story! Good story

  • Nikki Clamabout a year ago

    Wow, this article really made me feel like I was living in the 19th century with the Mistress of the House of Books!

  • Mia Clarkabout a year ago


  • James Taylorabout a year ago


  • Emma Brownabout a year ago


  • Dana Stewartabout a year ago

    This story is in my favorite Top 5 on Vocal. Very cool interview, and a peek inside the creative mind behind it.

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