Friday, 9 December 2011

Author Interview: Lev A. C. Rosen

Novel: All Men of Genius

Short Story: "Painting", published in Esopus Magazine


> What is All Men of Genius about? 

Inspired by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, All Men of Genius takes place in a Victorian London familiar but fantastical, where mad science makes the impossible possible. Violet Adams wants to attend Illyria College, a widely renowned school for the most brilliant up-and-coming scientific minds, founded by the late Duke Illyria, the greatest scientist of the Victorian Age. The school is run by his son, Ernest, who has held to his father’s policy that the small, exclusive college remain male-only. Violet sees her opportunity when her father departs for America. She disguises herself as her twin brother, Ashton, and gains entry. But keeping the secret of her sex won’t be easy, not with her friend Jack’s constant habit of pulling pranks, and especially not when the duke’s young ward, Cecily, starts to develop feelings for Violet’s alter ego, “Ashton.” Not to mention blackmail, mysterious killer automata, the way Violet’s pulse quickens whenever Ernest speaks to her, and a deadly legacy left by Ernest’s father. She soon realizes that it’s not just keeping her secret until the end of the year she has to worry about: it’s surviving that long.

> What drew you to steampunk?

Well, I was pretty much raised on Victorian Literature and Star Trek: The Next Generation, so I think both the sci-fi and Victorian aesthetics have been tumbling around in my brain forever, but the first memory of I have of something I’d really call steampunk is a video game: Final Fantasy 3 (6, actually, but back then it was 3) which had airships and steam machinery melding with fantasy - not quite Victoriana, but the vibe was there. I didn’t have a name for this sort of aesthetic back then, but then in college I took a class called “Victorians and the Machine” and we read The Difference Engine and I thought “This! Where has this been?” and started to discover the vibe and whatnot.

> Has having degrees in creative writing helped with regards to writing and publishing your work?

Publishing? No. The only thing publishers care about is the book (and the money they can make off it). But writing - absolutely. I can speak intelligently about the process of writing, which is key in being able to explain what I want to do in a book with first-draft readers. Plus, writing is one of those things that the more you do of it - provided you’re showing it to people and getting real feedback - the better you get. Studying writing gives you time to write - forces you to write, really - and forces you to examine your own writing in a way that can only improve it. It also gets you really good at taking rejection and critique, which is key to being a professional writer.

> What made you want to be a writer in the first place?

I’ve always written. Since I was little I’ve been making up stories and writing them down. I never really thought to myself ‘I want to be a writer’ it was just something I always did.

> In the books you’ve written, who is you favourite character and why?

Hm, that’s a complicated one. If we’re talking about All Men of Genius, which is my only published book... actually I’m not even sure there. Miriam is amazing, and I love her quest for truly individual identity while still being relegated to second class status in so many ways, and still maintaining her relationships. But I also love Cecily in the way that it’s sort of adorable to see a character who is growing up and doesn’t quite know themselves yet, but is quite sure that they do and always tries to make it look like they’re never surprised. And of course Violet is that fiercely brave character, who gradually evolves from reckless to genuinely courageous. I could go on. It’s like asking a parent to choose their favorite child. I even love Volio. I have no favorites.

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

I’d love to live in a steampunk world just to see the scientific marvels, but aside from that, no. I’m a queer Jewish man - Victorian England would not have been kind to me.

> What was the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

My first novel I finished as an undergrad in college. It’s called Chain-Link Fence. It took a school year to knock out a rough draft - so 9 months or so. It’s the novel that got me my agent and we’re still shopping it around. I have faith it’ll get published eventually.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

I don’t think I had one - not to say writing the book was easy, but I don’t recall any particular scene sticking out as hard to write. Some moments needed to be justified throughout the novel and figuring out how to do that was harder, like the Oscillation Therapy Devices - they started out as just a joke, but the page time didn’t justify them as that, so I wove them more throughout, and into the climax, so they’re an actual part of the book.

> When and where do you write?

I have an office in my apartment and I write in the morning, before I’ve showered. I edit after I shower, but then sometimes at night, after my boyfriend has gone to bed, I write some more. And I always carry a notebook around for when something comes to me.

> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

The best are those days where you are just doing it, and you get twenty pages out and they’re good ones and you know everything is going smoothly. The worst is a day where you want to be doing that but other things take over and by the time you sit down in front of the computer you’re exhausted and the words are in your head but they’re jumbled and won’t come out of your hands. As for being a published writer, the best is meeting fans at readings and seeing reviews that really get it. The worst is all the time you have to spend tweeting and on Facebook, etc, when all you want to be doing is writing.

> What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

How much I’d have to tweet and be online doing stuff. Your publisher really wants you to have a significant online presence these days.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Get in a writing group. Set deadlines. When your book is ready, really ready, and your writing group agrees and other people (not your mother) say it’s ready, don’t be afraid to start querying agents. And be prepared to get rejected. A lot. Over half of being a professional writer is about being able to take rejection and keep on going. Oh, and be prepared to wait. It took 11 months for my editor to make an offer on this novel, and months more for my agent and the editor to negotiate a contract. Then, edits didn’t come in for another few months, and I only had a few weeks to make the changes. So yeah, waiting and rejection. Part of the author’s life.

> Any tips against writers block?

I think having mini dance parties often helps shake it away.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

I set schedule and deadlines for myself and I keep to them. There’s a ‘daily goal,’ a ‘weekly goal,’ and a ‘this book will be done by’ goal. Otherwise it’s too easy to say I’ll do it tomorrow.

> How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

Keeping score is tacky, but plenty. Trust me.

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