Interview with Bianca Millroy: Forbidden Doors anthology

How would you describe who you are and what you do, in a broad sense and in relation to this anthology?

I am a wearer of a few creative hats: an emerging writer and freelance editor, a PhD student, a lover of books and all things literary, an occasional host for book launches and events, an avid coffee drinker, theatregoer and lighthouse afficionado! In terms of my writing, I’ve had works of fiction and nonfiction published in literary journals such as Science Write Now, Writing Queensland and Visible Ink. My unpublished manuscript, The Looming, was a finalist in the 2020 Queensland Literary Awards. As a freelance editor, I have edited three fiction books to date, including Paradiso by Steve Capelin, and four anthologies, the most recent being Forbidden Doors.

What can you tell us about the theme of the anthology? 

“Ask any writer to come up with a story and you won’t know what kind of doorway or portal you’ll end up stepping into. Add in the overarching theme of ‘Forbidden Doors’ and you have just unlocked a whole new level of storytelling. As both editor and a contributing author, trust me when I say readers of this new collection are about to set off on a journey, because these fifteen stories traverse worlds, ideas, possibilities, each complex and diverse…” (an excerpt from the Editor’s Note).

The above says it all in terms of the theme, and what we, as collective creators, were aiming to achieve in this anthology. The inspiration for this collection was set in stone from the moment GenreCon announced its 2023 theme: Forbidden Doors. Being a conference of all writing genres, each of us as storytellers have something unique to offer within the scope of genre fiction, whether the subject matter resides in our comfort zone or speaks to our writing ‘brand’ or if we choose to experiment and try something completely different. For example, my natural tendency is to write in the vein of historical fiction with a blend of gothic and magic realism, and so for this anthology, I decided to break my writerly mould and try my hand at speculative fiction. So many authors these days are being defined by their ability to defy genre and books are described as hybrid genres. I love this idea and I think as creatives it’s important to ask, “what if?” and push boundaries. Open doors, if you will. 

What was the editorial process like, working with many writers at once?

Working with a collective – 14 other authors, that is – was both an immense joy and at times an overwhelming but ultimately rewarding challenge. With a range of stories as diverse as this, you’re going to get a mix of personalities, but it’s about giving balanced feedback (including praise), communicating, and managing expectations, too. And there’s also the fact that the author’s chosen genre may not be the editor’s forte, and so when offering editorial feedback there’s a steep learning curve when it comes to, for example, complex terminology or acronyms in science fiction that are obvious to readers of that genre but may need a little more context. There’s also the part of an editor’s brain that’s working in tandem with the publisher, working to a style guide and how the overall publication should be edited to best cater for a multi-genre audience. The order the stories should go in, for instance, was a conversation over multiple days and strong cups of coffee… Thankfully we have ways of working nowadays that make processes streamlined and enable track changes and live comments et cetera. The tech side of it and all the work our marvellous publisher has done along the way to ensure we were organised and had a workflow has been a dream. Similarly, editing this anthology has just flowed so well, which as a freelancer you need given there’s often a few projects on the go.

You edited the anthology, but you are also a contributing writer – who edits the editor? And was it difficult to switch hats between writing and editing?

I’ll answer in reverse chronology, just to be tricky! I think it comes naturally now, as a writer-editor and as someone who values constructive criticism and feedback, it’s just a part of the process and I have learned not to take any feedback personally, but as a facet of what being a writer entails. To develop a skill, to hone a craft, you need to know your strengths and weaknesses, and how to rein them in and harness them. It also helped having completed six years of university study, so I am no stranger to the red pen, and being on the receiving end of criticism. In fact, if someone takes the time to read and edit or offer feedback on my work, I am simply grateful. We are so busy in our creative “hustle” these days, the switching of hats comes as second-nature (though not when reading for pleasure, unfortunately, as I find it hard to turn my editor’s brain off). And to answer your first question, our gracious publisher, Kylie Fennell was my editor, and I also had two editing buddies. To ensure we covered all bases, each story was proofread and edited by at least four people. Trust me, it was a process, but a necessary one to ensure consistency and a polished and professional outcome.

What has been your favourite part of working on this project?

The renewed vigour I experience with every creative project, and especially such a collaborative one. Although we have only met a handful of times over the past three years, the anthology collective has formed bonds through storytelling, imagination, perseverance and a shared passion. So, to name a favourite part? It’s difficult but I would have to say the moment I read each story for the first time. Knowing that I am among the first to witness a brand new, original creation unfold on the page and to have the opportunity, the privilege, to work with the author to refine, sculpt and polish each gem in the crown, so to speak. Well, that experience is incredibly humbling… and mind-blowing! Planning the launch is also exciting, to see our shared vision come to fruition and to celebrate the culmination of our collective efforts. That is such a gift. A BIG moment!

What should readers expect from Forbidden Doors?

Consider this next section your Forbidden Doors ‘tasting plate’, a one-liner for a selection of what’s inside, with much more to discover between the pages:

A woman looking for a fresh start in the country knocks on her neighbour’s door and uncovers a hostage situation.

In eighteenth-century Germany, a housekeeper engages her dangerous gift to unlock a secret door…

Babysitting a bunch of civilian scientists goes sideways after they can’t help poking a glowing alien artefact. System failures. Locked out. It’s going to be a long day.

An environmental crusader’s home stands in the way of a crucial renewable energy project. But it’s more than a house – it’s the only link to the sister she’s trying to save.

A Fae Ranger sent through a portal to Victorian England to stop an assassin faces an impossible choice in a battle between the light and darkness.

A dating game show contestant finds the last thing she expects behind the stage door. Will she follow her head or her heart?

Lastly, I’ll just add my own in, because why not?

Five people with no apparent connection are drawn to the Threshold, a multi-dimensional portal to past lives. What goes missing in one world…might be found in another – but at what cost?

Have I whet your reading appetite yet? Do you feel compelled to open any of the above doors? If that’s a resounding YES, then this anthology is for you! And if it’s a ho-hum perhaps maybe kinda yes and you enjoy plot twists and surprises and supporting local, then this anthology is still very much for you!

Who might enjoy reading these stories?

Readers of genre fiction of all shapes and sizes: crime, history, mystery, horror, science fiction and fantasy, speculative… you name it, there’s a door waiting to be unlocked in a genre of your preference. Especially if you enjoy delving into a variety of genres, or a collection of stories threaded together by a common theme, not knowing what might be lurking around the next corner, under that dusty staircase, behind the forbidden trapdoor in the attic, or through the otherworldly portal!

Where can people find the anthology? 

Forbidden Doors is out now and available in print and eBook from most online retailers or Lorikeet Ink and physical copies can be purchased from SLQ Bookshop.

Also just slipping in a shameless plug for Lighthouse, the anthology that illuminated the path for this next collection. I should mention at this point, all puns intentional.

Anything else to add?

Support local and read and review as much as possible, it means the world to writers and to the independent book industry. Word of mouth really is invaluable for books to find new readers and for writers to continue what we love to do best – bringing stories into the world!

The Forbidden Doors anthology will launch at GenreCon 2023. Register to attend the launch event here

Read more about Bianca and her work here on her website

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