Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Interviewed by a character

We're doing a blog-chain at the HCRW, where characters get a chance to interview their writers.  I'm letting Lauralyn Reynolds, one of the stars of my science fiction work-in-progress (WIP,) interview me - but shhh!  She doesn't know who I really am! ;)

Full list of blog-chain participants:  (Go check out their interviews!  I really enjoyed them!)
Aimee Laine
Lyla Dune
Carol Strickland
Amy Corwin
Lilly Gayle
Rebekkah Niles : Hey, you're here!
Laura Browning
Andris Bear
Marcia Colette
Nancy Badger
Sarah Mäkelä
Jennifer Harrington
Scott Berger
The interview:

I’m just finishing a cup of tea when someone knocks on the door to my third floor apartment.  I hear my roommate rustle out of her room to go answer – she’s expecting a package, and her room is closer to the door than our sunny little dining room.  A second later, she calls back to me.  “It’s for you!  A couple of guests?”

“Oh!  That must be her, the girl I mentioned wanted to interview me.  Thanks, Angel!”  I get up to greet them, setting my teacup by the sink to deal with afterwards.  My guest has indeed brought her pet, as she’d warned me she might.  “Lauralyn Reynolds?”  She nods.  “Please come in.”

She enters with a polite smile, the backpack on her shoulder typical for a college student. Nothing about her shouts 'money'; it's more a subtle whisper in her posture, in her voice, and in the tailored-perfect fit of her unlabeled suit.  Her backpack, though, shows all the well-battered signs of overuse: a practical woman, then, not one obsessed with appearances.  After a moment, I remember that her father is a wealthy businessman, one of those big-shots who probably considers his kids to be accessories as much as children.  “Please, call me Laurie.  And thanks for agreeing to this interview.  It’s a big part of my grade.  Mother will murder me if I fail a humanities course.  And I promise, Jake won’t be any trouble – he’s well-trained.  He won’t bother your cats at all.” 
Jake is a rosy-skinned half-oni, his straight black hair atypically long for his kind and his fitted clothes much neater than expected.  Like most half-oni, his eyes are wide, bright, and about as comprehending as the average cat’s: humans and oni aren’t completely genetically compatible, and the rare offspring are incapable of developing more than animal intelligence.  Since the war began, there have been an increasing number of them born.  No one was on board with genocide, so the politicians came up with an alternative to dumping the unfortunates on our already overburdened mental health system: for a fee and with a couple of months of training, families could adopt them as pets.  They're ridiculously expensive to adopt, and that's probably why they've become such a fad.

“All right. I was thinking we might sit in the living room?”  It’s fairly nice for a two-bedroom, but it’s still an apartment, and that means our choices for sitting space are limited.  Laurie and I settle on the couch, which has a nice view of the morning-glory covered balcony.  She pulls out a pet-pad for Jake, unrolling the yoga-mat-like pad on the floor at her feet.  He obediently migrates to it, and she places a toy in his hands.  He immediately begins gnawing on the rubber top and playing at the brightly colored dangles, ignoring the large stock of board games inches away from his face under my coffee table.

“He’s very well trained,” I comment.

Laurie nods.  “We’ve had him since I was four.  He’s always been a good boy.”  She pats his shoulder, and he leans affectionately into her knee, his face flushing a slightly darker rose of affection.  And then it’s time to get to business, because she takes out a recorder and a pad of paper.  “Now, then.  Let’s start easy: What kinds of books do you write?”

“I write fantasy romance and science fiction.  I say fantasy romance, because it’s more towards the emerging market of high-fantasy romance than towards the better-known paranormal and urban-fantasy end of the scale.”

“Wait.  What?”

“My romance is about mages in the Bronze Age, trying to save an island stuck between a volcano and an invading army.  In order to cast magic, though, they have to first find their soul mates.  And since the enemy numbers in the tens of thousands, and the island’s forces are about five thousand, they’re really going to need a little magic on their side.”

She looks a little confused.  “Where does the volcano come in?”

“The army is after the island’s natural power source: a huge pool of magic underneath the mountain.  Unfortunately, the magic happens to be very volatile, and if it’s not properly drained, it could cause the mountain to erupt.  When the islanders found out that the enemy would be invading, they allowed the magic to fill, in hopes of intimidating the larger army.  The plan backfired when the pool got out of control, and they had to sacrifice the only mages capable of controlling it in order to stop an eruption.  Now the islanders have to find seven new mages strong enough to drain it before it refills.  Only a mage isn’t really a mage without a soul mate, so they’re scouring their own people for their true loves.  The first book is on the general of the islander’s army.  If finding a soul mate weren’t hard enough, he also has to repel the invaders.”

I’m pleased to see her leaning forward, curiosity sparkling in her eyes.  “So it’s a series?”

I nod.  “Yes.  But enough about the book – you can read it when it comes out.  You said you had more questions?”

Disappointed, she sits up and glances down at her paper.  “Oh, yes.  What did you do before becoming a writer?”

I glance out at the flowers on the balcony.  “Before being a writer, I was a florist at a grocery store.  It wasn’t a bad job; I discovered that I really like working with flowers, and I made a lot of friends.  But the promotional potential was at that point almost non-existent, and I was barely making rent working more than 40 hours a week, especially with trying to pay off my college loans.  I decided that if I was going to be losing money, I might as well do it while doing something I loved: writing.  So I quit my job, wrote a romance novel, picked up a couple of part-time jobs, and started a science-fiction novel while I plan the second romance.”

Her eyebrow, at this point, has practically climbed into her hair.  “You quit your job to become a writer?”

I shrug. “Yes.  I did.  I had some savings, thanks to a few months of living at home with my parents.  I don’t have kids, or a husband, or a mortgage.  If I’m ever going to have a chance to pursue my dream, it’s now.  And I knew that I would always, always regret it if I never even tried.”

She jots this down, and I think from the amount of writing she does, she probably just took a full quote.  When she looks up, it's with another question already on her lips.  "Does your family live in the area?"

I nod.  "I grew up in North Carolina, and as you can see, I still live here.  I attended college at Appalachain State University, then moved back to the peidmont.  But even though I'm NC born and bred, I've done a lot of traveling in my life.  Both sides of my family have spread out across the country, and family is very important to me.  That means that, from a very early age, I've been flying to the four corners of the States, sometimes alone or with my older brother."

"Is that why your stories are in such exotic locations?"

I nod.  "I'm fascinated with traveling outside the country.  I've only been a few times, mostly in late high school and college, and I'm dying to go further.  I have to admit, I'm really curious to visit Santorini, since that's the volcano around which I've based my romance.  Oh, and I'd love to see Fuzhou, China, which is a key location in my sci-fi."

She pauses, a little indulgent smile on her lips.  "That's the name of the army base my brother serves on.  You'll have to wait until it's well-secured before you go visit: it's on the front lines right now.  I'm pretty sure you don't want to see what it's like with the Hanyou in the area."

That makes me shudder.  The Hanyou's a notorious general for the other side, well known to be emotionally unstable and viciously unpredictable in her attacks.  I neglect to mention that in my world, there is no war in China right now.  "You're right," I say instead.  "I'll put that on my bucket list for when it's safe.  But after spending so much time researching the area, I'd still like to see it myself some time."

Laurie’s pen flies as she sketches down a few notes on her paper.  “What sort of research have you done for your writing?  Jake, gentle with the kitty.  Gentle, boy.”  My orange cat, Bard, has wandered out from my room to sniff at the interesting newcomer.  Jake sniffs him back.  Clearly, ‘gentle’ is a command word, because the half-oni is very delicate when he wraps a hand around Bard’s tail and pulls it to his nose.  Bard gives him a very affronted look.

“Well, as I said, my first novel is set in the Bronze Age – albeit an alternative one, but still the Bronze Age.  Naturally, I know next to nothing about that era.  I was drawn to it when I decided I wanted to work with Atlantis, and I discovered that most scholars believe the Atlantean legend rose from the explosion of the island of Santorini in 1628 BCE.”  I laugh a little at myself.  I’d had no idea when I’d first started researching just what I was getting in for.    “When I first started sketching out ideas, I had Romans invading the island.  Guess what?  This story predates the Trojan War by a few hundred years! Forget Romans – we’re pre-Greek here!  So, obviously, there was a lot of research involved.  One of my first steps was finding out which civilizations actually existed at the time.” 

Bard’s noticed Jake’s toy.  With a clatter, he pounces on the dangles and begins trying to maul one.  For a second, I’m terrified that Jake will take offense, but I quickly realize that I’ve got nothing to worry about: Jake is watching him in fascination, making the toy roll over so the dangles move even more.  I  see Sonnet peek her nose out from one of the table chairs to eye the toy.  She’s a little more shy, though, and decides that interacting with scary strangers might not be worth the play.  The flash of black fur disappears again.  “Gentle, Jake,” Laurie says again, and turns back to me.  “What was your biggest challenge getting started?”

“Hm? Oh.  Probably the biggest issue I’ve had is the fact that I knew absolutely nothing about actually getting published when I started.  From day one, I’ve been researching, guessing, learning, and often flying by the seat of my pants to figure out where to go next.  I joined the RWA – that’s ‘Romance Writers of America’ – and one of the chapters, the HCRW, or ‘Heart of Carolina Romance Writers.’  That was probably the best decision I’ve made: not only are all the people wonderful, but I’ve been able to find the resources I need to learn about writing as a career.”

“Like what?”

“A little research online, for one thing, told me that I’d need an agent to get published by my target publisher.  And for that, I’d need a query letter.  But let me tell you: since I joined the HCRW, my query letter has undergone about fifteen or sixteen substantial revisions.  I now know how horrible it was at first, and more importantly, why it didn’t work.  I’m taking a class online through another RWA chapter, ‘Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal,’ or FF&P for short.  I expect to revise the query at least one more time by the end of class, and then send it out again.  Hopefully, I’ll actually get a request for a full submission this time.”

Laurie looks a little lost at the alphabet soup, so I give her a moment to catch up.  When she’s finished writing down all the names, I have a question of my own: “You said that you had to do an interview for a humanities class.  Mind if I ask what the assignment is on?”

She takes the break to shake out her hand.  “Not at all.  We’re supposed to talk about the risks and rewards of self-employment, and whether or not it’s something we’d consider for ourselves.”  She shrugs.  “Writing seemed like a good self-employed career to me.”

“If you ever do get into it,” I warn, “don’t expect to make millions.  I chose romance because it’s a genre with a large market, and thus I stand a reasonable chance at making a livable salary from it, if I can get published and build an audience.  We’re not looking at six-figure incomes, here: enough to pay the bills is all that I want.  Even New York Times best-sellers tend to earn less than $30,000 each.  I’ll have to write at least two to three books a year to be able to write as my only job.”

She nods, thinking.  I don’t know if she’s interested in writing; Laurie’s poker face is very good, so I have no idea what’s going on in her head.  But she gives me a bright smile, and pats Jake on the shoulder.  “Thank you for the interview.  I think I’ve got what I need.”  I think I see Jake unhook one of Bard’s claws from where it’s gotten stuck on the mat.  But no, even a pet as well-trained as Jake isn’t that smart.  I’m sure Bard just got himself free.  The orange fuzzball pounces again.

I stand up, and Bard stops playing with Jake’s toy to dash into the kitchen and meow plaintively.  Crunching follows as soon as he realizes that his food bowl is, in fact, not actually empty.  “You’re welcome.” I watch as Laurie packs up, and shake her hand as I walk her to the door.  “Thanks for coming.  Good luck with your paper!”

“Thank you,” she replies, and waves good-bye as she walks off, Jake’s leash in hand.  He follows obediently, walking on his feet instead of all fours, as most half-oni prefer.  I wonder-

But no.  Everyone knows half-oni are just animals.  Right?


  1. Fascinating interview! I really liked your "world building" for the alternate Bronze age world--very skillfully done!

  2. Wow, that half-oni is an interesting concept! And I'm quite familiar with the whole Thera/Atlantis thing. A guy from Dook U. wrote a book (Voyage to Atlantis; I think this was one of the first books to make the suggestion) about how he researched the possibility. I read it back when I was in college... practically in the Stone Age!

  3. Great interview! Loved learning about you and your book and your dreams! I wish you all the best with them, too! You have a vivid imagination, that's clear. And as for knowing Jake's an animal ... well ... hmmmm.... :)

  4. Great world building, but I found the half-oni concept disturbing. I wonder if that's the reaction you wanted since you ended the interview questioning whether he's really an animal or not. I get the impression that particular moral delima arrises in your story. I don't know what an oni is, but if he's half-human, regardless of whether he's mentally or physically disabled or not, I'd personally consider him more human than animal. And I can only imagine the controversy that statment would make in a world where oni-human hybrids are considered animals. Intriquing...

  5. Thanks! I've had fun developing the world. And I'm really glad someone else has heard about the Mt. Thera theory! It's exciting to work with such a major, literally world-changing natural disaster as the Santorini eruption. And since so little is known about the Bronze Age, I have plenty of room to exercise my imagination (is that really a good thing? Sometimes I wonder if I should put it on a leash, instead...)

    HALVES (the working title of my sci-fi) has a lot deep themes, including the question of what makes a person, and when a person has the right to self-determination. But the central story is actually about Jake, his family, and his struggle to discover a sense of self when his entire life has been lived as an animal. Laurie will travel across the world to face her greatest fears to protect him (not an easy task for a spoiled suburbanite,) and in the process be forced to confront the very prejudices she's been inundated with from birth. It's not always an easy story to write (it's taking me much longer than my romance,) but it has proven itself a fascinating challenge from the very beginning.

  6. Wow! YOu've taken on quite a project. And, I imagine that as you struggle with the question of what makes a human, human, you'll raise as many questions as you answer. Kind of reminds me of the original Planet of the Apes movies.

  7. Rebekkah, what a fascinating interview! I learned so much about you, and oni's, and the Bronze Age. Great fun reading. Thank you!

  8. Lilly and Scott, thanks! :) Glad you enjoyed the interview. And I'm having fun with the challenge of HALVES. It's an idea which waylaid me, and is holding me hostage until I finish writing it. You know the kind. ;)

  9. Sorry to be arriving late for the party--just finished reading this. Fascinating stuff! I enjoy fantasy/sci fi that's based on alternate reality of our world--then at least I feel like I have a bit of groundwork for getting into the story. I was wondering why your interviewing character was unfamiliar with the story, until I realized you were talking about two different books altogether. ("She pauses, a little indulgent smile on her lips. "That's the name of the army base my brother serves on....") That's a lot of world building! Good luck with both projects!