Unexpected Questions with Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Award-winning author, editor, and publisher Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with Mike McPhail and Greg Schauer to form eSpec Books (www.especbooks.com) an independent press specializing in speculative fiction.

As an author, her published works include eight novels, nine short story collections, and four non-fiction books, and her short stories are included in over fifty anthologies and collections. Danielle is a full member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association.

In addition to her literary acclaim, she crafts and sells original costume horns under the moniker The Hornie Lady Custom Costume Horns, and homemade flavor-infused candied ginger under the brand of Ginger KICK! at literary conventions, on commission, and wholesale.

Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail and four extremely spoiled cats.


If you were to create a superhero that had a weakness for something totally unexpected, like pickles or bubble wrap, what would it be and why?

My secret is out. I am a superhero and my weakness is cat memes. I can accomplish anything, but if I catch sight of fuzzy toe beans or a spicy kitten caught on camera… I will lose hours and those pesky villains will be long gone before I break the hold of those thirty-second shorts.


If you were stranded on a deserted planet with only one book to read, but it turned out to be one of your own, how would you feel?

Now you’re playing dirty. It really depends on which book it is. I love all of my books, but I have to admit, the earlier works I find it very difficult to read because I didn’t know thirty years ago what I know now and damned if it doesn’t show. You want to talk about cringe… That book better come with a laptop for me to revise it on.


If you had to choose between being a mermaid or a dragon, which would you pick and why?

Dragon. Definitely a dragon! Why limit myself to just one domain, when I can dominate land, air, and sea? Dragons are very versatile creatures. Fire, wings, golden hordes. You can find them anywhere, if you’ve the eye to see and very little stands against them. Mermaids, by their very nature, are more limited.


If you could choose any real-life celebrity to make a cameo appearance in one of your books, who would it be and why?

I think it would have to be Dolly Parton. She is unabashedly herself and I can’t imagine a scene with her in it that wouldn’t be amazing. Either larger-than-life fun or firecracker exciting. I couldn’t write a character as engaging and authentic as she is, I don’t think anyone could, but I would love to see that on the page. No nonsense and no apologies. Tough as nails even when she’s having them done. I can’t think of anyone as capable and heroic as she is.


If you could swap lives with any of the mythical creatures from your books for a day, which one would you choose and why?

Oh! This is an easy one! I would love, absolutely LOVE to be Beag Scath, the pixie from my Eternal Cycle trilogy. In this conception of the world pixies can draw on the magic around them and become whatever they want to become. Beag Scath spends a lot of time as a cat, but plays around with other things too. Most impressively, though, if he draws enough magical energy he can becomes the size of a human and super-sized Beag Scath kicks ass! He’s not just comic relief, he gets to be the hero. I mostly like his quirky shameless self. He really is pure magic.


If you could have any fictional pet as a companion, what would it be and why?

I would have a Pegasus or a unicorn as a companion (such magical intelligent creatures could not be called a pet). I have always loved horses and riding and the magical equivalent of that would transcend any mundane equine experience. Of course, if you meant a literal pet from an existing IP, I would say Fizzgig from the Dark Crystal, sweet, fuzzy adorable mop turned ferocious fighter, when needed.


If you had to choose between fighting 100 duck-sized robots or one robot-sized duck, which would you pick and why?

100 duck-sized robots, of course! I have a longer reach and a sledge hammer. They would be 100 recyclable disks in no time! But you know… on the other hand, a robot-sized duck, when I was done defeating it, would make one heck of a victory feast!


If you were to write a story featuring yourself as the main character, what kind of adventure would you embark on?

Oh, but haven’t I? Every time I sit down to write there is a little bit of me in each character. Sometimes we even share the same history. I have been on loads of adventures. Probably a whole bunch that I definitely wouldn’t want to experience in real-time. If I purposely sat down and wrote my own adventure, it would have a lot less awkward moments than the real thing, and probably a whole lot of mishaps caused by misunderstanding, because I can’t seem to get away from those, no matter how hard I try.


If you had to choose between having the ability to speak with animals or plants, which would you choose and why? No competition here.

It would have to be animals. I love animals but it can be a real challenge to maintain peace in a household with four cats. Some of them are quite grumpy, and randomly they will take turns beating up on one another. If I could talk to them, they could no longer pretend they don’t understand me when I yell at them! And maybe negotiations would go better when we have conflicting opinions of what is and is not acceptable :::grin:::


If you had to choose one of your books to be turned into a cheesy made-for-TV movie, which one would it be and who would you want to play the lead roles?

Why don’t you ask me to confess to my favorite child, why don’t you?! This is a harder one to answer. I don’t think I can pick just one. It would be either the Halfling’s Court my biker faerie novel, with Jensen Ackles as my lead fae biker Lance and Alan Rickman as his opponent, The Bone Raven; or Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn with Aria Shahghasemi as my Ali and Courtney Bandeko as my djinni, Morgiana.


If you were secretly an alien visitor to the Earth, why are you here?

To figure out what broke so we can fix it. Everything looked perfect on paper, but the higher-ups’ set things in motion before we’d properly vetted the program and that’s when you discover all the bugs initial testing missed. And, of course, we designers are the ones that get blamed for it, when we made it very clear from the beginning that this was just a preliminary proposal and what were they thinking going live already?!


Name the strangest/weirdest place you’ve ever written.  What made it so odd?

Well… When I had to commute it was not unusual to see me writing as I walked if an idea truly ran away with me and I didn’t get it down before my train arrived at the station. Kind of reckless given that when my commute involved walking it was either in New York, or Philadelphia.


If you could transport yourself to any fictional universe you’ve seen in a book you liked, which universe would you go to?

I am sure I am dating myself here, but I absolutely loved the concept of split reality from Piers Anthony’s Blue Adept series, both how the mirrored dimensions worked and the fact that one operated by magic and the other science. I could have a lot of fun with that, assuming I wasn’t the me that died to allow the other me to move between the dimension


Which trope of science fiction (phasers, transporters, time machines, much more) would you like to see put into our own reality? And how would you use it in a mundane way?

Without a doubt, the transporter, only I would want it to be like a portable one I can take with me when I go through it, that way I could use it to pop into the supermarket when I invariably realize I’ve forgotten one key ingredient I need to finish making dinner!


Thank you for letting me play with such fun questions! I love taking unexpected twists in life and in my fiction. My most recent novel really embraces that concept. The Play of Light is volume 12 in the Systema Paradoxa cryptid series and I get to explore and reconcile the many different theories on what Shadow People are in the context of this gripping journey of self-discovery. I hope you will check out this book and the series!

Systema Paradoxa is a series of books by different authors about different, mostly obscure cryptids, with an encyclopedia entry at the back of each one sharing the details of that particular cryptid. The series was created in 2021 in conjunction with the Cryptid Crate monthly subscription box to meet a need they had to provide their subscribers fresh content on cryptids that traditionally do not receive much attention outside of their native region. Currently there are eighteen volumes in this series and we are preparing to adding more on an ongoing basis.


Book links

Publisher’s Store: https://especbooks.square.site/product/the-play-of-light-by-danielle-ackley-mcphail/98?cs=true&cst=custom

GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56394276-the-play-of-light

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Play-Light-Systema-Paradoxa/dp/1949691578

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-play-of-light-danielle-ackley-mcphail/1141392521

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-play-of-light-1


Author links

Website: www.especbooks.com

Newsletter: https://www.facebook.com/eSpecBooks/app/100265896690345

GoodReads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/989939.Danielle_Ackley_McPhail

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Danielle-Ackley-McPhail/e/B002GZVZPQ/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DMcPhail

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/danielle.ackleymcphail

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/especbooks/

Bluesky: https://bsky.app/profile/dackleymcphail.bsky.social

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/dackleymcphail/

Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/danielle-ackley-mcphail



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