Conversations with Michelle

I haven't been staying home much, have I? Out gallivanting all over the Internet. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

Today I was being entertained, or perhaps grilled would be a more accurate word, by Michelle, who asks some real doozies of questions. She digs deep, covering academia, the writing process, motherhood... It was a real privilege to be grilled by someone of such depth.

My conversation with Michelle.

Guest-blogging at Reading in the Dark, interview at Word Menagerie

My #WeReadDiverseBooks reading challenge led Hannah, a blogger and active reader, to this blog early in the year. Today she is hosting me on her blog, Reading in the Dark, where she asked me to talk about the genre of Christian fantasy, which she found intriguing. Please click on over to my discussion on some of the challenges facing authors who write Christian fantasy, especially to the adult market.

Christian fantasy

Yesterday, I was interviewed at Word Menagerie, but I was moving through the post-launch exhaustion and a bit of a migraine, so I am late in getting it posted here. Do go take a look. It's not often you see the words Forex, goat, and guinea pig in an author interview.

Where Janet weighs in on goats and eBooks

 

Interview: Tracy Groot

I have featured reviews of three of Tracy Groot's books now: Madman, The Sentinels of Andersonville, and Maggie Bright. Tracy writes historical fiction, some of it based in Biblical times, and some in more recent history. (You can tell I'm married to a historian: recent is measured in centuries.) She has won awards, garnered endorsements from prominent historians, and delighted many readers.

You have written a good number of historical novels now, six, if I'm counting right. What was it that drew you to writing in general, and writing historical fiction in particular?

I've wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. I loved stories, loved reading. Happily, I did a lot of the kind of reading that many kids these days don't do: the classics. 'Happily', because this reading became (and remains) my source of education for the craft. I read Dickens, Twain, Alcott, Susan Coolidge, Lucy Montgomery--gracious, don't get me started. (You know what happens then, ha ha...) I read a lot of what C.S. Lewis called "old books", you know? George MacDonald. Lewis himself, Tolkien...and dynamite little wonders by writers that many folk never heard of--people like Grace Allen Hogarth, Elizabeth Enright, Margaret Sydney, Mary Holmes, Joan Robinson, Wilson Gage, Jean George, Helen Oakley.

I look at these old cherished childhood books on my shelves now and again, just to remind myself of novels that made a difference for me, when I'm feeling obscure and sorry for myself as a writer without a name like Madeleine L'Engle or J.K. Rowlings. Some of my all-time favorite books are What Katy Did, and The Enchanter's Wheel and The Vandals of Treason House, and The Secret of Saturday Cove--books unknown by most, but known to me. Like I am unknown by most, but known to the One who matters most, the One from whom I will get the only "Well done" that really matters, on those days I feel obscure and sorry for myself, ha ha!

So that's what drew me to writing--great books. And what draws me to writing historical fiction in general, well, that's a great question: the (mercifully) short version is that the definition of historical fiction is broad and wide: I can do pretty much whatever I want in whatever time period I want. Historical fiction means two things, generally: event fiction, as in Gone with the Wind and A Tale of Two Cities, and period fiction, as in True Grit, the Downton Abbey stories, and, really, A Tale of Two Cities again. Both event fiction and period fiction are historical fiction, as they are rooted in a certain time in history. So for me, it's one great big field day. I can ride a horse on the prairie in 1872, or I can rescue a stranded soldier under heavy enemy fire on a beach called Dunkirk in 1940. I can barf up demons on a northern Galilee shore, circa 0 B.C./A.D., Next day I'll be thrown overboard in the middle of a hellish storm, circa 750 B.C., because I told the sailors that the particular deity I worship said they should.

I'm close to saying historical fiction is the One True Genre. But it ain't so. There's Narnia. And Middle Earth. And Hogwarts. There's the plumb opposite of historical fiction, and that's a fave of mine, sci-fi. (Ender's Game, Dune, etc...) So HF is not the One True Genre, but it is my favorite playground. :)

 

Now here's a question I've been itching to ask you in particular. In Madman, you included a miracle in your story. Now I've actually heard it said that including God in a story in essence ruins that story, because you can resolve a problem at any time by throwing a miracle at it, which creates a bit of a conundrum for writers who believe that God can and does intervene. What are your feelings about that? And do you have policies about how and why you will "let" God intervene in your stories?

Deus ex machina. Yep. Had a local college prof accuse me of this, when he read the manuscript. He didn't like it that Zagreus was rescued at the temple by following "the big bright man", an angel only he could see. I nodded politely, thanked him for his time, and still had the angel do the rescuing. Why? Because, really, the whole darned thing was impossible, if the prof had stepped back to look at the whole. Kardus, hearing voices only he could hear--isn't that some other kind of god out of the works? The formula is wrong, I tell you. Why can supernatural evil operate as deus ex machina, and that's allowable, but not supernatural good?

It was sort of me flipping the bird to this illogical notion.

No, I don't have policies for how and why I'll let God intervene in my stories. Sometimes, I'll just let it play out--with Maggie Bright, the intervention was oh so subtle...an English Channel that was the calmest it had been for that time of year in a hundred years...men holding to their tasks under inhuman conditions to rescue others...the timing of Hitler's sudden stop of his Blitzkrieg, when if he'd pushed a little further he would have utterly decimated the British Army; this is God, this is God out of the works, and I believe much of these things happened because of prayer. Churchill himself called it a miracle. Many at the time did. Dopey revisionists cry foul.

I think it best not to have a policy for how we tell our stories. Just tell them naturally, let them come. Let people gripe. As long as you are convinced that the story is falling out true, well, that's all that matters. I'm glad I didn't listen to the prof. He was most illogical.

 

LOL! So now I would like to turn to how you decide what stories you want to tell. When I was reading The Sentinels of Andersonville, the whole Black Lives Matter was erupting. Your story of the concentration camp at Fort Sumter almost automatically calls up the parallels with Nazi concentration camps, where a complacent and complicit population turned their eyes away. But at the same time, I was seeing something all too similar going on across the Internet, as so many people refused to acknowledge what was happening right in front of their eyes. It gave your story a rather profound resonance with me at that particular time. Which is a very roundabout way of asking, do you start with a theme like complacency in the face of oppression, and find a story to illustrate it, or do you start from a particular historical incident that sparks something in you, and let the theme come in as it will, or something else entirely?

Oh, man. You ask such great questions, Janet. The kind that matter.

I think I become aware of theme as the story itself progresses. So that means I start out with the event, I guess; I believe our subconscious leaps at the theme from the get-go, when our conscious self is attracted to a story--our subconscious already goes to work on theme, I believe, giving the conscious part of us a break from having to think too deeply at the beginning. I believe, then, (at least for myself) that my lines would get too fouled up in onerous multi-tasking: I'm a simple person, and operate far better with one focus at a time: tell the event.

Then, as things pick up speed through research, and story develops through new things I learn, I hit upon the Real Reason I'm writing the book--and that reason is always, always, always vague at the beginning.

For example: I'm writing a story about Jonah. What got to me first about him was the fact that he ran from God. What got to me second is wondering about Nineveh. What got to me third was the men he sailed with. Ah...but what got to me fourth is what I'm currently fascinated with, and now I believe I've gotten down to it: Jeroboam the second, and the lamentable state of Israel at the time. Things were falling apart in Israel. The glory days were long past. King David the Golden One was the best king they had, and Jonah the prophet wishes he could've dealt with him, and not Jeroboam the Schmuck. Yes, Nineveh is bad--sinful, and stained, and rotten--but Israel suffers from lack of conviction. Israel, I believe, is in far more desperate straights than Nineveh.

So what do I feel Jonah is really running from?

I think he's madder than heck, not at God, but at Israel. At Jeroboam. At himself, because he is part of Israel. I think he laments the good old days of King David. I think he's furious with God because, deep down, he knows Israel needs a prophet and a good old repentance, not Nineveh. In fact, it was not long after this time in history that Israel disintegrates completely.

And then Jesus comes. Fixes things for good. But that's another timeline, another continuing part of the great story...

I digress.

My point, and there is one up there in that verbiage: Just as Arnold Toynbee said that character is formed by an interaction between a person's heredity and his response to his environment, I believe that theme is formed by a interaction between a writer's findings in research--his study of the event. Theme comes, and when it does, when we finally recognize it, then as Stephen King says, we can turn up the volume on it in the rewrite. (Though it seems my work is in a constant state of rewrite, ha ha...)

Wow. That's an extensive answer. But that's what you get for asking a great question--infliction in totality. :)

 

Those have been very extensive answers! But please permit me a last quickie or two. Would you like to put in a quick word about your most recent novel, Maggie Bright, and perhaps lift the veil a wee bit on what is coming next?

A word on Maggie Bright.

Maggie Bright's got my attention not because of the Dunkirk story, but because of the prayer story. Don't get me wrong. The story of an entire army in straits that make "desperate" a morbidly inadequate word, and civilians and a navy come to the rescue of that army, and the civilians and the navy get blown up and fired on to do so...that's incredibly appealing to me. But when a story like that carries with it stuff I can live on for today...that's win-win. See, prayer is something like sweet old aunties—there, and available, but not much noticeable unless you, well, notice. When you do, you see the value, you realize you've been missing something. And you engage once more. Through the writing of Maggie Bright, I remember once more my call to prayer: that prayer really, really, really gets things done. I remember that it is likely my number one responsibility as a Christian. I remember that it is the singularity that keeps me in touch with both my Creator and His creations, keeps an invisible hand-holding circle going on.

So that's why Maggie has my attention, and likely will keep for some time to come. It's an age old story of God, man, and the exploits of both. That's always a good story.

What's next for me?

A lot of reading. And then later, when I'm ready once more, a lot of writing. I have a half-finished manuscript I want to get back to, a story about Jonah told half from his point of view and half from the views of the men with whom he sailed. And I may mess around with YA fiction, co-writing some stories with a friend of mine. For now, it's all about filling up a well that has gone all but dry. I do see a shine at the bottom of that well, so the refill is on its way. Reading does it. And knitting. And puzzles. And paint-by-numbers. And cleaning my house. And baking. And taking walks. And lunches with friends. And prayer. :) And remembering that God is the restorer of my soul, not me.

Well, I think that's about it. :)

Good talking with you, Janet.

 

And it was good talking to you too, Tracy. :o)

 

Tracy Groot's website

Interview: Victoria Strauss

Today I am pleased to present Victoria Strauss,  author of nine novels for adults and young adults. She is also well known for her work with Writer Beware, protecting writers from the many scam artists that prey on those who are eager to be published. I recently reviewed Color Song, her latest novel for young adults. We discuss the common elements of fantasy and historical fiction, and the historical anomaly of convent art studios.

You've written a number of books – contemporary, historical, YA, adult – but the common thread in all of your books is fantasy. Why fantasy? What pulled you in that direction?

I've always been drawn to fantasy, fairy tales, the bizarre and the surreal, ever since I can remember. As a child, I was crazy about Arthurian mythology, and and I read all the way through the Andrew Lang books, as well as an endless number of fairy tale compilations from other countries--one of the things that fascinated me was how the story tropes repeat themselves from culture to culture. Another favorite was E. Nesbit--I loved the way the fantasy elements intruded into the everyday, the way the children in the books have a secret magical world that only they can share. In my teens I graduated to fantasy and science fiction--Harlan Ellison, Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton. These days I've kind of lost my taste for full-on epic fantasy, but my favorite books are still those that mix the real with the fantastical or the surreal.

In my writing it's the same. When I first started writing, I never felt the slightest impulse to do the conventional thing and write about my own experiences; instead I dreamed up a historical epic with fantastical elements. I guess what it comes down to is that ordinary life is what I live. When I read or write, I want to go somewhere else.

Does historical fiction fulfill the same function for you: taking you somewhere else? Color Song has only the barest whiffs of the fantastical, and even that is mostly in the backstory.

Yes. For me, fantasy and historical fiction have a lot in common, both from a reader's and a writer's perspective. Both create/re-create worlds that never existed/no longer exist, and can be experienced only through imagination. My fantasy worlds begin in invention, but they're also heavily researched and incorporate real-world templates and details. Conversely, my historical fiction begins in research--but I use liberal doses of invention to bridge the information gaps and dark areas that research just can't fill. I'm equally comfortable in both genres.

I originally intended Color Song to be more fantastical than it turned out to be, with Giulia hearing the voice of the spirit Anasurymboriel in dreams, just as she did in Passion Blue. But it quickly became clear to me that the story didn't need that kind of obvious supernatural element--and it was also too repetitive of Passion Blue. In the end, I decided just to go with Giulia's ability to hear colors--which could be the spirit's gift (whether or not Anasurymboriel really exists is ambiguous anyway), or could just be her own unique ability, unlocked by her discovery of her passion to paint.

Is your workshop of painter nuns based on historic fact?

Yes. It's based on the workshop of Suor Plautilla Nelli,who was the mistress of a painting workshop at the Dominican convent of Santa Catarina di Siena in Florence in the middle of the sixteenth century.

Plautilla's father was a painter, and may have trained her before she entered the convent at just fourteen years old, but she was largely self-taught. She mentored other nuns in painting, and her studio eventually became quite famous, with its works in demand not just for churches and monasteries, but for private residences. She appears to have produced a large body of work, but only a few of her paintings and drawings survive, including a beautiful fresco of the Last Supper that she painted for Santa Catarina's refectory (the refectory painting in Passion Blue is based on this). Plautilla was one of the first recognized female Renaissance artists, and is one of the only female painters mentioned in Georgio Vasari's famous seventeenth-century reference work, Lives of the Painters.

Was this studio what provided the creative spark for the duology? Or should I say series? Is a third book in the works?

I actually didn't set out to write about painting at all. I originally intended to write a novel about astrology--but in the research and planning process the story morphed away from astrology (though there's still a lot of astrology in Passion Blue) and turned into a story about art. I'm still not quite sure how that happened! --although I've long been interested in the practically forgotten female painters of the Renaissance and Baroque eras.

However, I hadn't heard of Plautilla Nelli; she wasn't part of my college art history courses. I discovered her studio while I was researching, and knew immediately that this was the setting I wanted to use, not just for its uniqueness, but because I was fascinated by the tension between the rigid cloistering of the nuns and the paradoxical freedom that existed--for at least some nuns, though certainly not all--within the confinement of convent walls.

I don't have any plans for a third book. I'm not a natural series writer--the most I've managed so far are duologies, and I'm only able to figure out what Book 2 will be once Book 1 is done. At this point, I feel I've traveled far enough with Giulia. I want to move on.

I certainly got a strong sense of closure at the end of Color Song. So what are you moving on to?

I'm developing two projects and trying to decide which to commit to. One is a YA in a fantasy setting similar to Venice, about a poisoner's daughter (no similarity to Rappaccini) and what happens when a thief breaks in and accidentally exposes a dangerous secret about her birth that her father has kept hidden. The other is a fantasy for the adult market about the spiral of awful consequences that follow when a pivotal (like, intended to hold up the very fabric of reality) religious-magical ritual goes wrong due to human error, and the powers that be attempt to cover it up. I'm leaning toward the YA project, mostly because it would be shorter and take me less time to write, but the adult project is more compelling. On the other hand, another idea entirely may pop up...I don't know.

I don't like being in between books this way, and I don't usually have so much trouble deciding what to do next, but there's an ongoing family situation that's eating up a lot of my time and emotional energy and makes it hard to focus.

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this with me, Victoria. I hope your situation resolves well.

Interview: Michael Farris Smith

Readers of this blog will recall my review of Rivers a few weeks ago (and the rest of you can hardly wait to hustle off to read it, but first things first). I was impressed. So I decided to approach the author, Michael Farris Smith, for an interview and he graciously accepted. In addition to Rivers, he has a novella, In the Hands of Strangers, and a short-story prequel to Rivers, "In the Beginning", available for purchase. His short stories and essays have been published in a number of reviews, including the New York Times, and have earned him a number of awards.

 

In Rivers, the weather is an implacable enemy. Why did you decide to set your characters against such an overwhelming foe?

I wanted extremity and the idea occurred to me that it is difficult for a place and its people to overcome one natural disaster, but what if there was such a thing as an almost continuous barrage from Mother Nature? The landscape of the Gulf Coast opened up in my mind pretty quickly. What would it look like? How would we cope? What would we do? And who would still be there? It was a strange case of having a setting before I had any characters and I didn't try and avoid that, but just began to write it. I knew the people would show up. They always do. And I knew they would have problems and histories because the world was too tumultuous not to.

I understand you prefer not to outline your stories ahead of time, and it certainly seems to have worked well with Rivers. Has this approach ever caused you problems?

Strangely, that's the first time I've ever wondered that myself. My guess is I don't think it has necessarily caused me problems. I get bogged down when I think too far ahead, or even think too much. So I'd say no, but who knows if that's completely true or not. I honestly don't think too much about process. I'm afraid if I try to figure it out, it might go away.

Rivers is your first novel and it's often said the first novel is biographical. Cohen, the main character, fits into your demographic, although there are also clear differences. How much of yourself do you see in him? Or the other way around?

I think autobiographical elements exist in most work, some obviously more than others. I learned quickly as a growing writer that I didn't like including myself, or the people I knew, or my own experiences in my fiction. Probably because when I was in workshop in grad school, it was pretty obvious whenever someone was trying to pass off something that had happened to them as fiction. And it usually wasn't very interesting.

Cohen and I share some things: being raised in South Mississippi, being familiar with the ties to generational land. I think the long "I love..." passage that appears when Cohen is preparing to leave his home for the final time says a lot about the things he and I might share.

The thing that I share most with any of my characters is the emotions they experience. I sense loneliness, depression, the feeling of being lost, and I know that in both Rivers and The Hands of Strangers those are themes that arise.

Reviewers have often found some difficulty categorizing Rivers. Where do you think it fits in best? Were you aiming at any particular kind of story?

I felt like it was a Southern gothic novel in its earliest stages. And it still feels that way. But the further I got into it, the more I felt like it reached across genres. At times it felt like a Western. At other times it felt dystopian. When it was finally done, I'm not sure I even knew where to place it. Fortunately, I don't have to and it's not something I think about or worry about. I'm happy it has reached across genres, I think at last count I'm up to seven different genres I've seen it listed under. That's a strange thing to me.

I myself called it a literary, near-future dystopian thriller. ;o) What is next for you? Is the next novel in the works? And may I safely assume you are tormenting a new cast of characters?

I'm hopefully finishing up a novel revision and turning it in by the end of the year. And yes, I'm tormenting, don't know another way.

It's a good thing we don't treat real people the way we do our characters! Is this novel also set in the South? Will setting play as great a role this time or is there another focus?

There is a little bit of the South, a little bit of Paris, set in 1920. And yes, setting will play a role. It will always be a big part of what I'm doing because those are the kinds of novels and stories that have influenced me. Creating a sense of place is one of the favorite things I enjoy about writing.

Which leads in nicely to my last questions. Who would you consider your greatest influences? And what relatively unknown author would you recommend to your readers and why?

My biggest influences are Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, Larry Brown, and Jean Rhys. Just as much for what I learned from them about work ethic and keeping the faith as for their work itself. I'd also throw Faulkner in there, and Truman Capote has recently become someone whose work I really admire.

As far as a more obscure writer, Charles Dodd White is someone who is writing great Appalachian novels and stories, just a poetic voice and great eye for detail. I'd tell anyone to read him.

Thank you so much for this, Michael.

 

My review of Rivers

Michael's website

Interview: Edward Willett

How do you not love an author who has a blog called Hasenpfeffer? I first met Ed Willett somewhere in cyberspace so long ago I can't remember where. Blogs? MySpace? Following links? Who knows? But he had a blog called Hasenpfeffer. And he grew up in Saskatchewan. (As did I. You get extra points if you know where that is.) And he wrote speculative fiction. It was clear I had to take a closer look...

You are such a prolific writer, it makes my head spin. Fiction, non-fiction, YA, adult, science fiction, fantasy, Edward Willett, E.C. Blake, Lee Arthur Chane... Am I missing anything? Plus you act and sing. How do you keep all these balls in the air?

I think you’ve covered the bases. Except for the volunteer work. (I’m on the board of The Golden Apple Theatre, a professional theatre company, and I also do a lot of desktop publishing for it and other theatre organizations.) And the driving-daughter-to-dance-and-theatre work...

I actually feel like I’m way too lazy and could accomplish much more if I didn’t waste so much time on the Internet. I don’t really have any words of wisdom regarding how I manage to do so many different types of things. To me it’s all one thing. Yes, writing a YA fantasy novel isn’t the same as writing, say, the annual report of Chief Electoral Officer (as I did last year) or a short 32-page book written at an early-reader level about the Milky Way…and yet, it is. It’s all about using words, about communicating—telling a story, whether one I’ve made up or one that’s true. Acting and singing, too, are really just forms of telling stories. So that’s what I really am: a storyteller. In ancient times I’d have been the old guy by the fire spinning tales. Good thing, too, since with my eyesight I’d either have had to be a shaman or I’d have been sabertooth bait…


May I be blessed with equally productive laziness.

Tell us about your most recent novel. (Yeah, I'm always more interested in the fiction. Sorry.) And how many novels does that make now, while we're at it?

Actually, I’ll tell you about my two most recent novels, since they’ve come out so close together. Both are the second books in series, as it happens!

Shadows, which came out August 4 from DAW Books, is Book 2 in The Masks of Aygrima, a trilogy that began with Masks last fall and will wrap up with Faces next summer. It’s a fantasy novel set in a land where everyone is forced to don a magical Mask at the age of 15, a Mask that tells the dreaded Watchers who might pose a threat to the rule of the Autarch, so no rebellion is possible or can even be contemplated. The main character is a 15-year-old girl, Mara Holdfast, who is the daughter of the Master Maskmaker and also has a rare and powerful form of the magical Gift that only a small number of citizens possess. When her Masking unexpectedly fails, she is sent into exile, rescued by the unMasked Army, and flung into the effort to overthrow the Autarch…all the while trying to learn to control her Gift, which is not only powerful but dangerous, and threatens to turn her into a monster worse than the Autarch she is working against.

Twist of the Blade, which I just got copies of yesterday, is Book 2 in The Shards of Excalibur, a five-book young adult fantasy series being published by Coteau Books here in Regina. It’s the sequel to Song of the Sword, which came out in the spring. Book 3, The Lake in the Clouds, will be out in the spring of 2015. In Book 1, Song of the Sword, the Lady of the Lake showed up in Regina’s Wascana Lake and informed Ariane Forsythe, a 15-year-old girl who’s been in and out of foster homes since her mother mysteriously disappeared, that she is the heir to the Lady’s power, and must stop Merlin, in his modern-day guise as Bill Gates-like computer magnate Rex Major, from finding the scattered shards of Excalibur and reuniting them. If he does, he will use the sword’s power to take over the world and attack his own world of Faerie. Ariane and her sidekick, 14-year-old Wally Knight, successfully gained the first shard in Book 1, but in Book 2 Wally begins having doubts after Ariane used her power to hurt his sister, Felicia (a rather nasty bully). The story takes Wally and Ariane to the south of France, and tests their new relationship to the limits.

How many novels? Um…(counting on fingers)…twelve traditionally published and three self-published. So far.

 

Arthurian legend in Regina. I like it.

Now I would like to know about your writing process. Outline? Improvise? Bit of both? Do you write better in silence? To music? In public places? (We'll pretend that's only one question. Ahem.)

I outline and then improvise. Most books start as a five- or six-page synopsis, which I only rarely refer to once I’m actually writing. Major plot points don’t usually change, but new ideas come out of nowhere as i write, or as characters, in the middle of a scene, say something or do something that takes things in a different direction than I originally envisioned. The outline is kind of like a roadmap on which the destinations of a planned trip have been highlighted, and perhaps the major highways that will be taken to get to them. The writing is the journey itself, full of side trips and detours and scenic routes. Occasionally even the destinations change. On more than one book I’ve had to pause and replot in order to get to the final destination because of choices made during the actual writing that invalidated my original synopsis.

I rarely write in my office. I prefer to write on my laptop either inside the house or, more often, in a public place like a coffee shop or bar. If I’m writing at home, I write in silence. If I’m writing in a public place, I listen to music—what music hardly matters: it’s just a way to shut out conversation. A general roar of background noise doesn’t bother me, but any actual conversation where I can make out what’s being said is incredibly distracting. Especially if it’s a conversation about something I have a strong opinion about and the idiots talking don’t share my opinion. :) As I write this I’m listening to some random mix of ‘70s hits on Radio…

 

I can really relate to the conversation problem. And now, finally, which authors have particularly influenced you? Do any of them attain the status of role model?

My biggest influences are undoubtedly the authors I read as a kid, the ones who turned me into a science fiction and fantasy reader and, very soon, writer. Robert A. Heinlein is, of course, the father of us all in science fiction. His “juvenile” novels in particular were a huge influence on me. Isaac Asimov, particularly the robot stories. Andre Norton was another big influence on me as a young reader. Zenna Henderson was another, and of course J.R.R. Tolkien.

But role models? Only in that it was their stories, which I loved so much, which convinced me that I wanted to tell stories that other people would enjoy as much as I had enjoyed theirs.

Because ultimately, that’s what I am: a storyteller. I make up stories, I tell them to other people, and hopefully they’re entertained. If I’m thought-provoking or inspirational or anything else, that’s great: but as long as I’m entertaining, I’m content.

Thanks so much, Ed.

I reviewed Ed's Lost in Translation here.

And his website is here.

And here for E.C. Blake

And here for Lee Arthur Chane

Interview: Caroline Wissing

Caroline Wissing is an Ottawa writer with one publication to her name, but many irons in the fire, as you will see. I reviewed her Young Adult novel Voiceless a while ago, and Caroline has graciously consented to allow me to hound her with questions. (And let it be said in passing, that there is absolutely no reason in the world why adults should not enjoy reading Voiceless. Like any good YA, it is in no way childish or simplistic.)


Tell us a little bit of how Voiceless came to be. I think it's safe to say that it is not autobiographical.

Ha, yes, the book is definitely not about me. Or my mother, as she'd hasten to add. 

The genesis of the idea came out of a news story I read about a woman in the United States who takes in old, injured or abused horses and provides a sanctuary for them to live out the remainder of their lives. The idea of this fascinated me and I started to wonder what it would be like if she'd been rescuing people, specifically teenagers.

So there I had a farm and emotionally damaged kids, and I was free to explore their relationships to each other and to the horses they helped care for.

The character of Ghost came to me as a mute. Even though I realized it would be an enormous challenge to write a novel-length manuscript with a first-person narrator who didn't speak, I decided that was simply who she was and went with it. The others also came as they were, flaws and all. I love to develop characters who are quirky and deeply flawed, as most of us are.

 

What do you hope your readers will take away from Voiceless?

I hope Voiceless exposes some of contemporary society's injustice. Using fiction to shed light on social problems lets readers identify with characters and see situations from a fresh perspective. It's easier to ignore homelessness and the homeless than it is to look deeper and realize they're people, and their reasons for living on the street are as numerous and varied as the homeless themselves.

As tough as life is for Ghost, she manages to cling to a shred of hope and survive. Teenagers who are dealing with difficult situations and sometimes making bad choices need to realize that these years are some of the toughest they'll have to face. There's always hope in tomorrow.

 

You published with a small press. What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages?

Publishing my first book with a small press was a great experience. I loved working with the editor who was assigned to my manuscript and really felt that he respected my opinion about any changes that needed to be made. He helped shape the story into a much better book. I also had a say in other aspects of the process. For example, I didn't like the first cover my publisher emailed to me. The image was the same as the final product, but it was smaller and there was a lot of white space that made it feel more like a text book than a novel. I voiced my concerns and suggested a different layout and they agreed that, in order to promote my book, I needed to like the cover. They made the changes and I'm very happy with the results.

I haven't published with a larger press but I think one of the disadvantages of a small press is that the budget for promotion and marketing is limited. I did what I could on my own, but neither I nor my small press has the kind of money and connections of the big three publishers.

 

What are you working on now?

Finding an agent! Or a home with a publisher for my other finished work. I have 5 completed novels that I'm shopping, on and off, when I can find the time to research agents and publishers and create submission packages. 

I'm also in the midst of writing a memoir about caring for my elderly mother (who has vascular dementia) and working a full-time job, while also raising two teens. It's called My Life as a Sandwich.

 

Five! Are they all Young Adult, or have you tried your hand at other things?

One of my completed novels is YA. One is middle grade. Two are adult contemporary and one is adult humour. Plus the in-progress memoir. The other day I started another adult contemporary novel that I'm quite excited about. But isn't that always the way with a shiny new project? My writing productivity varies depending on what else is going on in my life, but I always have something on the go. I wouldn't want to have to live without writing.

 

And finally, if you had to reduce your library to just a few books, which ones would you choose?

Reduce my library? That's crazy talk.

But if I absolutely had to, I'd choose to keep all the signed copies of books, from both famous authors and from my author friends. I have a copy of Not Wanted on the Voyage signed to me by Timothy Findley, and a couple of signed books by Margaret Atwood that my husband gave to me. Those and the signed books by friends are more valuable to me than other books that I could either replace or borrow.