Sarah Avery (dr_pretentious) wrote,
Sarah Avery

Next Big Thing Meme

Right now is a really fortuitous time for something like the next big thing meme, since I'm finally in a position to start my next big thing, after struggling for five years with the project I finished last month. Besides, I like the next big thing meme so much better than the other things that go around this time of year--influenza, Pinterest craft tutorials, serially regifted fruitcake--that I figured, why not hold forth about my writing plans? Besides, I'm trying to come up with something silent and conducive to the kids falling asleep that I can do while the boys struggle to stay awake for Santa. Yes, they're a day early, but there's no telling them that.

So, ten questions and ten answers:

What is the working title of your next book?
The Traitor of Imlen

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
The phrasing of this question intrigues me. Were these two possibilities initially imagined as just a couple of things that can happen with books, or as the two main fates that can befall a book? If you don't already have an agent, your only hope is to self-publish--is that an assumption people make these days?

At the moment, my answer is neither. I don't currently have an agent, but I am confident that eventually I will catch one worth having. And as glad as I am that self-publishing is becoming a viable option for professional writers, it's still not an option I anticipate pursuing for major projects. I do have a one-off charity fundraiser project that will eventually be self-published, but that's one of the next small things. The big publishers do have some large and useful services to offer writers who can write to their standards. Since I can, why not give it a shot?

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I do a lot of my best work while I'm dreaming. Robert Louis Stephenson's wacky writing process is not that different from mine, though it sounds like his was way faster and more reliable than mine has been since the kids were born.

I first saw the city of Beltresa in a dream in 1990. I was skydiving into a map, which became the city the map depicted. I landed lightly on a bridge over a canal in a neighborhood that smelled of coffee and paprika. The city told me its name. Ever since, people and events I've read or heard about have prompted my brain to say to itself, That reminds me of something that happened in Beltresa.... The Beltresins come hang out in my forebrain and tell me their stories. They especially like long road trips and music by the Afro-Celt Sound System. I ask them about their lives. They tell me. I push back and shape their stories; they acquiesce, or don't. I bring them tidbits from the newspaper as offerings and see what they offer back.

A friend recently said of my creative process, "You don't need to have a dissociative disorder to write fiction, but it helps."

The story of Stisele of Imlen was one of the first Beltresin stories to introduce itself, though it has changed a great deal since then. I got my first glimpses of it in the early 1990s. In fact, I attempted to write it for my senior thesis in creative writing at Vassar. It may be just as well that my thesis advisor was hostile to genre fiction, because I wasn't really ready to write novels yet, and the result would have been dreadful. Now I have a great deal more conscious influence, even something approaching control, over how my stories come out.

Stisele's story started to arrive when I read--I wish I could remember where--this sentence: "Nothing tastes sweet to me but the sight of my child." At the time, I was 20 years old and had no idea how true such a statement could be. The sentence has bounced around in Beltresa, tried out several different characters who might say it under several different circumstances, and finally settled into the voice of Stisele's mother. Well, both her birth mother and her adoptive mother, in different drafts. I still don't know who will finally get that line, assuming it survives to the final draft.

What genre does your book fall under?

High fantasy.

How long does it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Depends on my working conditions, primarily on whether young children are climbing bodily over me all day, smashing my computer keyboard or sucking the ink out of my pens anytime I try to write while they're awake. When I was childless, I could produce 300,000 words of first draft per year. By contrast, I started work on the Ria story a month before Gareth was born, and finished it at 50,000 words shortly after his fifth birthday.

The first draft of The Traitor of Imlen is already in progress, and has been on hiatus for A Very Long Time. I produced the first 50,000 words of it during Nanowrimo several years ago, and the second 50,000 words during Nanowrimo the year after that. I had intended to pick the book up again this past November, but Hurricane Sandy demolished that plan. Since what I'm trying to accomplish with the book now is to take all the long stretches of notes to myself about scenes that haven't yet materialized and to turn them into scenes of actual story, Nanowrimo wasn't really the ideal process for the next step in the project anyway.

Just getting back into the book is going to take some time. There's a lot I don't remember. There's a lot of research I have to reconnect with, so I'll have offerings for the characters that can persuade them to dream at me. Honestly, I don't know whether I'll be able to get into a groove with this novel before summer. I've got a bunch of unfinished short stories lined up that I can probably finish while I poke at the old manuscript. Oh, and I'm still hearing back from beta readers about "And Ria's From Neptune," so there are at least two rounds of fixes left to that manuscript--the last round before I send it to my publisher, and then one round or more when they get their hands on it.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown, in that it focuses on one central character, a woman whose birth poses serious problems for her nation's monarchy.

Elizabeth Moon's The Deed of Pakseanarrion, in that one of its strands is a bildungsroman about a girl growing into herself as a soldier in a morally ambiguous army. (I didn't mean to write a military novel, especially not one about a cavalry officer. The research for this aspect of the book has kicked my ass.)

Shakespeare's King Lear, in that it's a tragedy that arises from a loving royal parent's manipulation of her children's affections.

William Goldman's novel The Princess Bride--as distinct from the film--because it has a frame narrative in which an exceedingly unreliable narrator tries to piece together and explain Stisele's story. The reader knows better most of the time, except of course when the reader doesn't. I keep trying to jettison the frame narrative, but my historian figure from 200 years after Stisele lived keeps telling me to give him a chance to prove his usefulness to my book. I haven't fired him yet, because he's indispensable to my writing process. He knows he's on probation. Whether he'll stay on the page all the way to the slush pile is very much an open question.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I don't really think in these terms. Usually, the characters look like themselves. Sometimes I'll see a stranger in the grocery store or on the street and think, Now there's a Beltresin face. There was a guy who used to hang out at the Starbucks in New Brunswick who looked kind of like Haldur of Ythrae when I was writing the first draft of Spires of Beltresa, and an acquaintance I talked to in line for coffee there semi-regularly was the model for the Empress of Efa, but my dreaming unconscious mind seems to have an aversion to Hollywood casting.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
This book is, among other things, a ghost story. I've written before about why I'm drawn again and again to write about troubled ongoing relations between the living and the pesky dead, and it's hard to improve on that older, shorter post. Whether I'm writing high fantasy, contemporary fantasy with a humorous turn, or postmodern sonnet sequences, I'm a cordially haunted writer. A preoccupation is a creative boon, so I've just decided to go with it.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The opening movement of the novel, which polished up nicely, will appear soon-ish as a stand-alone novella in Black Gate. The magazine has moved entirely onto the website, so "The Imlen Bastard" will be available for free. I'll post an announcement with a link when that happens. You can get a look at Stisele when she's seven years old. One of my favorite compliments ever came from Gregory Frost, who saw the novella when it was making the workshop rounds and declared, "I believe your seven-year-old viewpoint character is actually seven years old."

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
The bastard foster daughter of a royal house casts her lot with the colonized people she was sentenced to govern, and breaks the ancestral magics of both nations to free her subjects from her kin.

Well, that was a long post. I can't believe it's after 11pm and the kids are still fighting over night lights and singing about Santa.
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