Fantasy, Horror, and Horses: Trisha J. Wooldridge

WooldridgeAuthorTrisha J. Wooldridge has been a freelance editor, copywriter, journalist, and author for over thirteen years. She’s edited over fifty books, three online courses, four tutoring manuals, several issues of Massachusetts Horse magazine, mutual fund resource information, and the text for the Dungeons & Dragons: Stormreach massive multi-player online role playing game. Her fiction includes over a dozen short stories and poems, including pieces in the EPIC award–winning Bad-Ass Faeries anthologies and the Stoker award–nominated New England Horror Writer anthologies. Under the name T.J. Wooldridge, she’s published three middle grade novels: The Kelpie, The Earl’s Childe, and Silent Starsong. She is the former president of Broad Universe, as well as a member of New England Horror Writers, the Horror Writers Association, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.

Daily Dragon (DD): You’ve published a number of short stories in anthologies. What are the joys and difficulties of working in a shared volume?

Trisha J. Wooldridge (TJW): Most of the difficulties are similar to writing anything on the shortish side: Do I have something for this theme or can I write something for this theme? If I’m writing, do I have enough time to write and polish it to a submission level? And if I don’t get accepted, is it general enough to send elsewhere? There are a few other difficulties and concerns if it’s a shared royalty anthology—what happens if the publisher doesn’t do a good job with royalties? I’ve had that problem for a few. Is my work going to get its value through royalties?

But I started with the difficulties first because there is far more joy in submitting to the anthologies I choose to submit to. First and foremost, I love a challenge! I do love having a specific topic to write to; I prefer having a strict deadline to motivate me; and how freaking cool is it when you get to share a table of contents with some writers who have inspired you?! Oh—and how wicked freaking cool is it when one of your TOC mates says they are honored to share an anthology with you and asks for your autograph?!

I’m part of five different anthologies this year. Two are charity anthologies and three paid (or will pay me on publication) me for my contributions. I am so excited to be part of all of them, but I’d love to give a quick shout out to the charity anthologies. One is for local writers and artists in my region—it’s a project where artists and authors paired up and inspired each other. I do try to do a lot to support my local arts scene, and this anthology by the Blackstone Valley Arts Association is beautiful and I am proud to promote the work of the authors and artists in my area. The second is Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, which is an anthology by Necon Ebooks where 100% of the proceeds go to support the Jimmy Fund. I have lost too many friends and family to cancer, and the horror community in New England has too, so we got together with a local convention, Necon, and made this book a reality. Because the Jimmy Fund actually did save several of our friends and colleagues with their work.

DD: You’ve also written two standalone novellas, Tea With Mr. Fuzzypants and Mirror of Hearts. Can you tell us briefly what each of those is about?

TJW: Novellas are an odd thing that I’ve played with on and off over the years, and these two were ones that I felt were ready to head out on their own in the world.

Mirror of Hearts started its life as a short story, “Queen of Hearts,” my first and only A in the hardest creative writing course I’ve ever taken. Then a friend of mine turned me onto Fantasy Gazetteer (now defunct, unfortunately), which was having a novella contest. I thought I could expand that short story—at that time, my most rejected piece, actually—and I won the contest for a pretty significant prize. I turned the prize money around and submitted [the novella] to Pole to Pole publishing because I really liked what they were doing with their standalone novellas. I was accepted and it came out! I recently redid Mirror of Hearts with the short story and a new cover by Lynne Hanson, another guest at Dragon Con, and re-released it last year. My favorite “elevator pitch” for Mirror is that it’s a Gothic-styled sequel to Snow White, complete with murder and incest.

Tea with Mr. Fuzzypants came about when I was playing with a few particular ideas on a horror story. I’d run the piece by two different critique groups with great feedback and a great response. While I was still fiddling with edits, the editor at Pole to Pole asked me if I had any other novellas. Mr. Fuzzypants was the closest to done, so I finished my edits and worked with an editor to get that out—with another great cover by Lynne! I like to sum Mr. Fuzzypants up as a story about really bad parenting decisions. The tag line is “Inviting a dead bunny to tea wasn’t Dad’s first mistake…”

DD: You also write as T.J. Wooldridge, with two MacArthur Family books and a standalone called Silent Starsong. Why did you decide to aim for a younger readership?

TJW: Stories tell me what they are about; the characters introduce themselves to me and demand I listen to their adventures. I usually don’t get a say in what new friends the muse introduces me to. I’m a wicked pantser like that.

Kyra Starbard, one of the protagonists for Silent Starsong, came to me first. I was passing a mailbox on the way to the horse rescue I work with and saw the name “Starbard” on it, and it struck me as such a perfect science-fiction space-opera-esque name. As I was driving home, Kyra and her best friend Marne, hopped into my head and started talking. I was in the middle of another novel at that time and even tried “putting them up for adoption” to my writers group… like good writing friends, my group said I needed to write the story as it came to me. I revisited it after I had gotten the first MacArthur story published, re-edited it, and had it accepted.

The MacArthur stories grew out of my love of Celtic faerie tales and my work with horse rescue. I’d been working with a colt who couldn’t be gelded because his testicles hadn’t descended—due to being malnourished in his babyhood. While I was walking him, he caught whiff of some mares across the way and started jumping and rearing on the end of my lead rope.

It was bleeping terrifying! In my head, I knew I needed to write about how scary horses were; in my research, I found that the Scots had evil faerie horses. The Kelpie was born… along with the dysfunctional family who would find him. I hadn’t necessarily planned doing that as a children’s book, but the most vocal voice was almost-twelve-year-old Heather.

DD: What inspires you to write?

TJW: I have a harder time with too many things inspiring me…. Because everything can be a story. If it stirs a deep emotion, there’s a reason for that and there’s a story behind it. If it’s a question I don’t have an answer to, it’s a story. If it’s something utterly beautiful, terrible, or otherwise moving, it stirs a story.

Mostly, though, people and why people do things, inspire me. Why do people hurt each other? Why do they love each other? Why do they go to such extents for love and hate, to care for or to harm other people? My stories are very character-driven; I like exploring how people work and interact with the world.

DD: What do you enjoy about working as an editor, and what do you find challenging?

TJW: My favorite part of being an editor is when you find a problem for an author and ask the right question that gets the author tied into a creative whirl. Most of the best authors I see want to write better; they want their editor to find things—whether they are issues the author is stuck on or they are things the author completely missed. When you have a problem and the editor asks the right questions, the result ends up being a richer, deeper story that has a greater sense of Truth to it. And when the author sees that, sees how to fix it, we both often get manic and teary-eyed.

Even better, when I get to see a next draft or a finished piece, and the author has figured out something totally different than what I had thought might fix a thing—and way, way better!

Writing is a magical process; as an editor, you get a different part to play in the magic. Being an editor, I honestly believe, has also made me a better writer.

DD: As an editor, do you see a particular problem many submissions have in common?

TJW: Having been many years to Dragon Con, to the excellent Writer’s Track, to so many of the writing workshops, I continue to be stunned to find out how many authors just don’t follow submission guidelines.

I have heard this at every workshop, at just about any and every writing panel, at any writing event I have been to: follow the submission guidelines!

I work my butt off going through every submission guideline page before I submit anything; it’s not that hard to do.

Next most frequent: The author hasn’t done enough editing they could do themselves. I do get it; I get sick of my work before its ready. Don’t give in to that feeling, though. If you need to, put [the piece] aside or send it to another beta reader or critique partner, but for the love of anything holy or unholy, don’t send it as a submission.

Third most frequent, a messed up sense of timing and problematic verb tense. Review your verb tenses, your simple past, your past perfect, etc. before sending your manuscript off to anyone. It’s the most aggravating thing to fix in a manuscript, at least for me, so if I’m putting together an anthology and I have a choice of what could be an awesome idea but has screwy verbs and an unclear passage of time or a great-but-not-awesome idea with a clear sense of time, I’m going with the great-but-not-awesome because it’s less work for me. Editors have a limited time to give to submissions; most will go with what requires less work and less time rather than something that could be an awesome idea but is poorly executed or written.

DD: How did you get into giving Tarot workshops, and do you use Tarot in your fiction?

TJW: I started learning Tarot in college because I was inspired by a reading I received from my Orientation Leader. She sat down and started teaching me right away. The following Christmas, my husband (then fiancé) got me my first Tarot deck, and I’ve been reading since. It’s just been a thing I do… and I’ve gotten good at it. I started doing Tarot Workshops at a few local New Age stores and apothecaries because people asked me to, and then I pitched a workshop for Tarot and Writing at Conbust, a feminist SF & F convention at Smith College. I had standing room only, and it’s been a semi-regular Conbust panel for years now. I’ve started doing it at other conventions around New England, too.

I do use the cards for my fiction. I’ll give my characters readings for when I’m stuck—usually the character wanting to do a thing I hadn’t planned for—or I’ll draw one to three cards to see if an idea or character that I haven’t fleshed out yet is ready to start developing. I do have Heather’s mom, in The Earl’s Childe, pull out her Tarot deck when the family is lost at what to do for a particular problem. Admittedly, so I was I; I’d written myself into a corner. I used the same spread I’d done for me in the book. I’ve referenced the Tarot in some of my horror short stories and poetry, as well.

DD: Please tell us about your involvement with Bay State Equine Rescue.

TJW: I was a volunteer for the Bay State Equine Rescue for over a decade. I did direct care for the horses, I wrote promotional stuff, and I helped create fundraising events. My favorite, of course, was the direct care of the horses. We had shifts of volunteers for feeding, grooming, and exercising. I loved it!

Eventually, after working with the rescues, I felt I was ready to create a deeper relationship with a horse, so I asked the founder and president, who was a friend, if she knew of anyone looking for a part-time lease or such. As I started looking into that, another of the volunteers fell into very hard times and needed a home for the horse she had rescued.

Less than two months later, Calico Silver and I were together. Calico was a PMU mare—a mare used to create the drug Premarin. It’s an awful life for a mare to be kept by a pharmaceutical company, and I suggest everyone look into the treatment of animals if their doctor suggests they take that particular drug. The volunteer who’d had Calico before had purchased her when the pharmaceutical barn went into bankruptcy—it had been a joint effort of multiple rescues to save the mares and foals before they were sent directly to slaughter. Calico had had four years of just being a horse and roaming free in her paddock. When I adopted her, we started training for riding together. Since then, we’ve actually done several riding fundraisers for Bay State Equine Rescue, as well as for breast cancer.

While I don’t work directly with BSER currently, I still donate and spread the word about their events.

DD: What is Broad Universe, and why are you a member?

TJW: Broad Universe is an international 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting, supporting, and celebrating women’s contributions to science fiction, fantasy, horror, and everything in between. I learned about BU from another member at Dragon Con about fourteen years ago. Having always been a feminist—and at that time still just starting my writing/publishing career—I joined and have been a member ever since. In fact, I was also the readings and events coordinator for two years, and then the president for seven years.

Broad Universe does a number of things. First and foremost, it’s an excellent networking resource. Writers of all levels are there and answer questions and share information with newer writers. We also share information about issues women authors face and ways to deal with harassment, sexism, and barriers in publishing. The organization also helps members get their work out there by sponsoring book tables at conventions and events, hosting educational events at libraries and bookstores with members, and holding Rapid Fire Readings for members at conventions so people can hear the different authors. Check the schedule for the Dragon Con Rapid Fire Reading!

DD: Do you have a single piece of advice for aspiring writers?

TJW: Don’t rush, and don’t feel like you’re not moving forward fast enough. You make mistakes and can hurt your career if you rush into poor contracts, submit or publish a piece before its ready, or quit your “day job” before you have all the tools you need to make a living in publishing.

I have made all those mistakes at some point, so I’m speaking from experience. 😉

Seriously, take time to really cultivate your art and your business knowledge. Keep creating, allow that some of what you create is “practice” and doesn’t need to be published, and learn everything you can about the craft of writing and the business of publishing.

DD: What’s next for you?

TJW: Currently I’m working on another spooky children’s book, The Circus Under the Bed. I’m in the editing for beta reader stage after a failed attempt at selling it to an agent before it was ready. See above advice! Two of the anthologies I’m in are coming out in October, so I’ll be hitting a lot of conventions and conferences and sales venues. I also have two finished novellas in various editing / feedback stages that need me to get those ready for submission, and a third novella that is partly written and partly outlined (I don’t always pants!) that requires finishing.

My three children’s novels are out of print due to issues with the publisher I sold them to—see above advice!—so I’m working on getting my rights back to them because I have at least one other publisher interested in putting them out again.

And I’ve got a sheaf of poems handwritten in a notebook that require my attention and editing so I can send those off into the world, too!

DD: Thanks for your time.

TJW: Thank you so much for having me! Happy Dragon Con to all!

You can find out more about Trisha J. Wooldridge at

Author of the article

Nancy Northcott is the Comics Track Director for ConTinual. She's also a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction, fantasy, and history. Her published works include the Boar King's Honor historical fantasy trilogy and the Arachnid Files romantic suspense series. Collaborating with Jeanne Adams, she also writes the Outcast Station science fiction mystery series.

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