Monday, 8 September 2008

Violette Malan - Author Interview

Novels: The Mirror Prince
The Sleeping God

The Soldier King


Pitch the first novel of your series.

> The first novel of my series is The Sleeping God -- and I want to start off by saying it is a series, each book a separate adventure featuring the same characters. There's no necessity to read them in any particular order. The continuing characters are Dhulyn Wolfshead and Parno Lionsmane, members of the Mercenary Brotherhood, a Samurai-like organization with strict codes of honour and behaviour, but not exactly the same codes that everyone else has. I've always been a big fan of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories, and Dhulyn and Parno are my attempt to create modern versions of those characters. I also wanted to create a male-female pairing that didn't have sexual tension as its primary focus. My Mercenaries are life partners, but not in a romantic sense. Oh yeah, and I've always wanted to kill things with swords.

What are your favourite three books (not by you, either in the field or out of it)?

> Can I do favourite authors instead? Even there, it's going to be hard to limit myself to three. Okay, I'll limit them to living authors. There are lots of people I would recommend, but there are only half a dozen who jump to the top of the "to read" pile when a new book comes out. Tanya Huff, Charlaine Harris, and Arturo Perez-Reverte, especially his Captain Alatriste stuff.

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

> My favourite characters -- no matter who writes them -- are the honourable ones. Even, as I've already said, if their sense of honour isn't exactly what we expect. I suppose of the characters who have appeared in print so far, Dhulyn Wolfshead is probably my favourite. She's the most complex in terms of her early life, she's not afraid of anything, and she can kill anything that moves. On the other hand, she'd really prefer not to.

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

> What, and miss the next season of Torchwood? Not likely.

What was the first novel, published or unpublished, that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

> The first novel I ever finished (you don't want to know how many I started) was a romance novel. I was in university and I thought I could take a month in the summer and write one for quick cash. Here's what I learned: if you try to write something for which you have no respect, you will write trash. Not parody, not clever witty satire, just trash. Writing is hard work, (even parody and clever witty satire, maybe especially), you have to take it seriously, and you have to respect what you're doing. To write a romance novel that would actually work as a romance, and sell as a romance, I had to learn to respect the genre. It took me about two years to produce a manuscript I wasn't ashamed of, and yes, I did sell it. Would I do it again? No. If I have to work that hard, I want it to be on something I really enjoy.

What was the hardest scene for you to write?

> Love scenes. Not erotica, that's easy to write (just ask my husband). But love scenes? Easy to sound stiff. Uh, no pun intended.

What was the most fun book signing, convention, etc. you've attended and why?

> I'm afraid that I just find the idea of having to leave the house to promote myself and my work so hilarious that I'm having fun wherever I go. And that's saying a lot, since I'm a functioning agoraphobe.

If you still have one, what's your day job?

> I'm not sure whether I have a day job or not. Come to think of it, I'm not sure that I've ever had a day job. Until I started being paid for my writing, everything I did get paid for financed either my education, or my writing time. Technically I now write full time, especially if this is being read by my agent, yup, I'm working right now. I certainly don't leave the house to go to work, but my husband Paul is also self-employed, and someone has to keep the books, and make sure the household economy runs smoothly. That someone is me, and yes, Paul does pay me. After all, if someone else did it, he'd have to pay them.

What is your university degree in?

> I have a PhD in 18th-century English literature. That's literature of the English, not literature written in English. My dissertation was called "Death of a Genre: Pastoral Poetry in Eighteenth-Century England". So if you want to know what Alexander Pope meant when he said "Two Swains, whom Love kept wakeful, and the Muse/ Poured o'er the whitening Vale their fleecy Care", you've come to the right place. Oh yeah, I can also tell you where the expression "namby-pamby" came from, who pointed out that all that glitters is not gold (and what it has to do with cats), and who was really the first who said "love conquers all".

Do you think it is easier to write fantasy or science fiction?

> Please see the answer above pertaining to romance novels. It isn't easy to write anything. Let me say that again. It is not easy to write anything. Writing is not easy. It is splendid. It is shocking. It is sublime. But it's not easy.

When and where do you write?

> Most of the time in my office at home, so that's where. I try to write between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, with a break for lunch. And petting the cat.

What's the best/worst thing about writing?

> Did I mention how hard it is? Seriously, the worst thing is the time when it just won't come, and for a flash of an instant you feel that maybe this time it isn't going to. The best thing is the moment when everything clicks, the idea, the image, the concept and the words to express it all come together at the same moment. It's like something explodes in your chest. Now if you want to know what the best thing about being a writer is, it's the readers.

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

> How long the process is. It can take up to two years from the sale of your first book until that book actually appears in print. It didn't take that long for me (either the romance novel or my first fantasy novel The Mirror Prince), but by the time The Mirror Prince did come out I was very tired of answering the question "I thought you'd sold a book, where is it?"

Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

> Heinlein's five rules, my paraphrasing. You must write. You must finish what you write. Don't keep revising it. Get it out into the market place. Keep it out until it's sold.

Any tips against writers block?

> The idea of the whole huge project can be pretty daunting. Trick yourself into thinking of it as small, manageable pieces. What I'll often do is say to myself "All I'm going to do is read over what I wrote yesterday; my brain's not working, so I don't have to do anything else, just read over what I did yesterday." I find that the act of reading over the previous day's work relaxes my mind enough to go on working. Or, pretend you're only going to work on something specific, "I'm just going to get them across the street, that's all, once they're across the street I can go downstairs and read a book." Of course, you have to be good at pretending. But then, you're a writer, aren't you? Small steps. Today's work today.

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

> Lots of rejections for stories that never got published (go figure). For the romance novel, 2 rejections before it sold. For The Mirror Prince, if you don't count the number of drafts my agent asked for, no rejections at all, since my agent handled it. Say, there's another good reason to have an agent.

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