Interview with Zoe Brooks, magic realist writer and reviewer

This week, allonymbooks novelist Evie Woolmore interviews author Zoe Brooks about their mutual interest in magic realism and Zoe’s project to read widely in the genre.
Evie Woolmore: Zoe, you explain on your blog that you started reviewing magic realist books because people told you that’s what you wrote. What qualities were you attributing to your own fiction when you started writing that you now identify as being magic realist?
Zoe Brooks: The Healer’s Shadow trilogy books and Mother of Wolves are all set in a non-specific world, which could be our world but isn’t. The world is very realistic – influenced by my study of history and my travels – and so it is unlike the incredible fantasy worlds of most fantasy books. Looking back I realize I was influenced by One Hundred Years of Solitude, in which Marquez creates the town of Macado, in an unspecified country which could be somewhere in South America but isn’t.  The world of my books isn’t full of spells or magic, but there are Shadows.  The heroine of the trilogy, Judith, is born with a Shadow. Shadows appear to be human but aren’t in some ways. Through the course of the trilogy, Judith and the reader understand more and more about what Shadows are. 
 
Most magic realism is about two cultures meeting – often a western realist culture and an indigenous culture which believes in magic. The trilogy is partly about the clash between the new university-based medical doctors and traditional healers, such as Judith. In The Company of Shadows, the final book in the trilogy, Judith completes her training as a healer. As a result what might be called “magic” appears, but then it depends how you look at it. I think this ambiguity is a common feature of magic realism. 
EW: Yes, I agree that ambiguity and a clash of cultures are something I would certainly identify as being magic realist. How useful do you think ambiguity is as a creative tool for a writer?
ZB: It’s a very useful tool. It is also true to life – life is ambiguous. If you are using a first-person narrator I would say ambiguity is a necessity, as your central character can’t be certain of everything.
Ambiguity can be used to keep the reader turning the pages: what’s going on here? But whether you can still have ambiguity at the end of the book is another matter.  Some people want everything wound up and explained at the end. In magic realism that doesn’t always happen – sometimes the magic is just part of the world and isn’t explained, other times the reader cannot be clear if the magic was actually in the head of one of the characters. Personally I am quite okay about that when I read a book that ends in this way, but other people aren’t. In the case of The Healer’s Shadow trilogy, the last book answers a lot of people’s questions.
EW: What unexpected surprises did you discover among the books you read and reviewed, in terms of new authors, books you weren’t expecting to enjoy, or clever uses of magic realism?
ZB: What a question! I’ve read over ninety books for the magic realism blog, so where do I start? Of the classic magic realist books the one that blew me away was Pedro Paramo. It’s poetic, experimental and just wonderful. Previously I had read very few short story collections, but magic realism works well in short stories. Moscow But Dreaming by Ekaterina Sedia has to be one of my favourite books so far and Diving Belles by Lucy Wood is a lovely evocation of the magic of Cornwall. In terms of clever uses of magic realism I suppose the use of magic realism in Graham Joyce’s psychological suspense novel The Tooth Fairy was an eye opener for me as a writer and has influenced the book I am currently working on. I had not experienced Chicano literature before and I loved the historical biography The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea. Hardly a surprise as it’s about a traditional woman healer, which is also the focus of my Shadows trilogy.
 

EW: I too very much enjoyed Lucy Wood’s Diving Belles, and it reminded me of how different the narrative drive is in short stories. You mentioned the influence of The Tooth Fairy, so I’m curious what else you have learned about your own writing of magic realism from reading so widely in the genre?

ZB: I don’t subscribe to a view that magic realism is a form of escapism. I have just finished Burning Angel by James Lee Burke, which is a gritty detective story with an element of magic realism. Your book can be very real and also magical. The more I read the more I see magic realism as a way of exploring reality in its totality. I’ve always tackled hard issues in my books – The Healer’s Shadow trilogy is about overcoming prejudice and persecution. I believe magic realism can allow you do this in a deeper way.

EW: So, can you share with us what you are writing at the moment?

ZB: My current work in progress is set in modern Prague. It’s a place I know very well, as I spend half my time in the Czech Republic. Prague may be a bustling modern city, but it is also one where almost uniquely you are aware of a magic reality alongside the normal world. I am always surprised how many Czechs believe in angels, devils and nature spirits. The novel is a psychological suspense. A young British woman has gone missing. As we meet people who knew her and read her letters and journal, we find ourselves in a shifting world of reality. In a fortnight I will be flying off to the Czech Republic again, where I will be finishing off the first draft of the book. 

Zoe, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you about magic realism. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts.

You can find out more about Zoe, her novels and her magic realism blog at her website. You can find out more about Evie Woolmore’s magic realism novels here at allonymbooks, and read Evie’s review of Zoe’s first Healer’s Shadow novel here.

 

Interview with Ben Galley, author and founder of Libiro

This week, British indie author Ben Galley talks to allonymbooks novelist Evie Woolmore about his writing and his brand new e-book distribution website, Libiro.IMG_1824s

Ben, you’ve had a busy year, releasing two books and launching an e-book store among your galaxy of other activities. We’ll talk about Libiro in a minute, but I’m interested in how and why you settled your first published novels in epic fantasy, a very strong genre in indie publishing.

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. Fantasy in general is seeing a huge surge in popularity, and publishers are responding in kind. Both indies and traditionals are churning out great fantasy books like there’s no tomorrow, and the readers are inhaling them at an equal rate. It’s an exciting time, especially now that we can all chat to each other and share great reads so easily via Twitter and Facebook.

Another reason I chose to write and publish fantasy is that I’ve always loved it as a genre. Ever since I was a kid I’ve always had my nose buried in a book, drinking in mythology and the wildest dreams of Tolkien, CS Lewis, Gaiman, or of Robin Hobb. It is fantasy’s limitless nature, that I admire – how each author can spill their imagination onto a page, and experiment without worrying whether they’re thinking too far outside the box. That’s why I like it, and why I like writing it too. It’s gives you a wonderful sense of satisfaction, when you realise you can get away with writing about minotaurs, and goblins, or shadows and magic. The stuff we all pretend is real when we’re young.

Promo 2013 BannerSo what do you think indie publishing offers fantasy writers that perhaps traditional publishing doesn’t? As an author of magical realism myself, I like indie publishing because I don’t have an editor or a marketing team saying ‘I can’t pigeonhole that, it’s too original to be sellable.’ To what extent does that argument apply for fantasy genres?

I think pigeon-holing happens across all genres, and all publishers are somewhat guilty of it. It’s a natural thing to do, after all, when you’re funding a debut book with your own money – you want to make sure it sits nicely inside a genre, so that it sells, and sells well. If it’s a little too out there, and has even the slimmest chance of taking a commercial nosedive, then there’s a risk you might lose the money you’ve put it into it. But indies don’t have this problem! Our publishing costs are much, much lower than that of a publishing house. Also, thanks to the big reading boom, there are a lot more readers exploring the niches of popular fiction. Fantasy fans are doing this en masse. There’s just something about fantasy and sci-fi fans. They put the fan in fanatical. All this is great news for us indies – we can publish books that push the boundaries, and actually sell them too.

What have been the best and worst bits for you about indie publishing your own work?

 That’s a good question! There are so many good bits. Taking the reins with both hands gives you an enormous sense of accomplishment when progress is made. After all, it’s all down to you, and so you deserve to be pleased and proud when a great review comes in, or when a bit of fan mail pops into your inbox, or when you glimpse the last months’ sales figures.

One of my proudest moments will always be walking into a Waterstones, and spying my book sandwiched between the likes of Neil Gaiman and David Gemmell. And I didn’t even put it there! The store had taken a chance, based on its cover, and I later learnt they were selling very well. It’s at those moments that you can’t help but grin like a halfwit. You suddenly realise it’s all been worth the hard work.

There are down-sides, of course, as there are to most things. Self-publishing can be difficult at times, primarily because there are days when it feels like you’re not going anywhere, but trying everything. It can be hard when you’re faced with doing everything yourself, and in those times, all you have to do is remember what you’ve achieved already, and the pros of the self-publishing path. Keeping those at the forefront of your mind will always help.

Logo_f_LargeSo, given that you have had success in bookshops with printed versions of your books, what led you to set up Libiro? What are you offering the indie writer – and the reader – that other e-book distributors don’t?

What led me to set up Libiro was my own experience in the digital world. I’ve had success in both the print world and the eBook world, but each has their downsides for us indie authors. For instance, in the print world it can be difficult to get major bookstore chains to take your book. With eBooks, however, getting your book into a store isn’t difficult but standing out amongst the crowd can be, especially at vast stores like Amazon and Kobo. They’re great providers and very author-centric, but it can still be tricky. Another thing we indies face is the self-publishing stigma – the belief that just because a book is self-published it is automatically of a lower quality than a traditionally published book. These are the issues my co-founder Teague Fullick and I wanted to tackle.

By making Libiro exclusive to indies, we can help fellow authors stand out, as well as showcase their talents to the world. We also offer a great 80% royalty to all authors, regardless of price, genre, or book! For readers, Libiro offers an exciting store where you can find the newest and most exciting indie fiction. If readers have never tried an indie book before, then Libiro gives you the chance to do so!
Ben, thanks so much for taking a few minutes to talk to me. I wish you the very best with Libiroallonymbooks author Flora Chase has already put her YA historical novel The Strattons on the site and it will be fun to see how it goes.
You can find out more about Ben Galley at his website.

Facts and Imagination: Evie Woolmore and Jane Davis discuss writing historical fiction

This week, allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore interviews Daily Mail award-winning novelist Jane Davis, whose novel These Fragile Things she recently reviewed.

“…I’ve never seen the point in historical drama. Or historical fiction for that matter. I once thought about writing a novel of that kind, but then I began to wonder, what possible patience could the public have for a young man arrogant enough to believe he has anything new to say about an epoch with which his only acquaintance is flipping listlessly through history books on train journeys?” (The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman)
Evie Woolmore: When we were chatting about doing this interview, Jane, you said this quote had caught your eye.
Jane Davis: I should probably start my answer by explaining that Beauman has one of his characters speak the words, and all too soon it becomes plain that they are spoken precisely because his novel is historical fiction with a twist. He is giving himself licence to play with the theme. The blurb describes The Teleportation Accident as ‘historical fiction that doesn’t know what year it is’. That said, one of the things he acheives so successfully is that his characters are very modern, as they would have been, and are obsessed by all of the same things that plague us – one whose obsession while the Nazi party is growing is not political uprising but whether he will ever have sex again, for example – which provides an instant connection.
To some, the idea of writing any novel may seem like a fairly arrogant and self-indulgent idea to entertain. In an age when we are told that life expectancy will increase to 100, and fiction is classified as ‘historicial’ if the setting is over 30 years ago, we can all expect to dabble with history in our characters’ back stories. Since we’ll find their motivation there, it can’t be ignored. My intention when writing I Stopped Time was to pay tribute to men and women (like my grandmother, who lived to the age of 99), who experienced an enormous period of change. I could have done so by simply reading a history book (although my preference would always be a biography), but I chose to do both. It’s said that reading novels allows a person to live thousands of lives. The same can be said of authors. To explore a period of history through one character – or perhaps a small cast – brings history down to a very personal level, making it easier to digest. For me, reading non-fiction can be a passive experience. When I am writing, I am actually inside the story. Through my characters, I have to confront sights and sounds and react to them in the moment. In that sense, unless you are writing comedy, I don’t think it is possible to take historical fiction ‘lightly’. I’m afraid to say that I found The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window, which was intended to be comedy, deeply offensive. Recent history is too raw and sensitive to be messed with.
EW: That’s an interesting point about recent history. Two reviews of my novel Rising Up reflected in different ways on the challenges of writing about the Holocaust: the novel is set simultaneously in the present and in the Warsaw Ghetto of 1942. While I had not intended to write ‘a Holocaust’ novel as such, the book does explore how our knowledge of the past might affect us were we actually to engage with the past. The city of Warsaw presents us with that question all the time. So should the present day character Tom tell the Ghetto character Ela what he knows of the fate of the Jewish people or not?

JD: Reviewers’ reactions to novels is always very interesting. One review described I Stopped Time as a feminist novel. I have yet to read Rising Up but can imagine that Tom’s dilemma provides a very interesting conflict.
EW: How do you perceive the temptation to superimpose our own contemporary values on historical fiction? It’s an issue that has reared its head again very recently with verbal anachronisms being spotted in Downton Abbey.
JD: I watched my first episode of Downton Abbey last week, not because I wanted to, but because my father-in-law assumed that I would have been tuned in from the beginning. No matter how many times I insisted that I didn’t usually watch it, he was equally keen to ensure that no-one spoke during ‘Jane’s programme’. That said, I do appreciate the difficulty of striking a balance between getting the ‘feel’ of the language right and borrowing directly from the language of the day. Ripper Street is another example of televised crime drama with a historical setting where it might be argued that the language was not absolutely authentic. I have to say that I particularly liked how one of your characters in Equilibrium exclaimed, ‘Mrs Keppel’s knickers.’ The knickers reference probably sounds far more risqué now than it was at the time. I have just found the extraordinary line: ‘Richer than the Keppel girls, Bertie was their godfather and their knickers were edged with lace,’ quite a leap in terms of subject-matter!
Taking the mid-twenties as an example, there were trends of speech – such as ‘sick-making’ – among the Bright Young Things that would just sound wrong to today’s ears. I have encountered the same difficulty writing accurate dialogue for contemporary teenagers. If you were include use of the word ‘like’ as often as it actually makes an appearance, all sense of meaning would be lost.
The issue of dialogue is one thing, but changing values is another. Here, an early editorial review of I Stopped Time criticised the apparent ease with which my main character deserted her young son. ‘Part of the problem, I know, is different mindsets. Today, we feel that a mother should always put her child above a husband or partner. A hundred years ago, children were seen as being relatively less important, and society structures and viewpoints placed the woman’s role as being with her husband – this is reflected in the fact that Lottie feels excluded from the raising of her child. I’m not suggesting that you traduce historical truth, but the whole thing should be much more of a crisis in which we in the twenty-first century can feel Lottie’s terrible suffering.’ In Equilibrium, one of your characters faces as similar dilemma, handing her child over to someone else when she knows that she cannot take care of her. It is not that I don’t understand how a nineteenth or twentieth century mother might seem ‘cold’ by today’s standards, but I do feel that writers have a duty to provide an insight into how things were and to illustrate how rapidly attitudes have changed. I recently found a picture on a historical photographic board on Pinterest of a Brooklyn mother who had put three of her children up for sale during the 1930’s depression. Far from receiving criticism, she was applauded for her practical solution of how to feed the other five. No-one felt the need to ask if her decision was heart-breaking. It had to be done. And presumably she had been forced to choose which of the eight to sell – the eldest, I’d imagine.

EW: And isn’t it interesting that the picture makes us do the work in thinking about the subject’s experience and probably makes us understand it more directly, whereas in a novel we have done that work for the reader, often only to be told that we’ve got it wrong, that we weren’t being realistic!
JD: Have you had a similar experience of having being asked to make a character’s decisions more understandable to a modern reader and, if so, what was your reaction?

EW: Not exactly, but it is the central dilemma of my novel Rising Up, in that because Tom and Ela are in different times, Tom (in particular) must decide that for himself. Are the actions taken by Ela and her sisters understandable to him in absolute early C21st terms of right and wrong, or are they understandable because he is applying the filter of hindsight? He must decide not only how much of Ela’s possible future he can or should share with her, but also how to respond when she begins to reveal how strikingly different her sisters’ behaviour is. Without giving too much away, her sisters have very different experiences of the Jewish Ghetto and the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, but even then, all is not what it seems. I think in a way – without necessarily intending to – I was writing about how difficult it is to understand the past without judging it – just as you describe in the photograph of the Brooklyn mother.
A criticism I have heard of Tom is that he is too passive and too focused on his own goal of finding out what happened to his grandfather. But that narrow-mindedness is an expression of his paralysis about the enormous burden the past can put upon us, that same paralysis that perhaps we have as writers of historical fiction at times, in how best to revisit and re-express the past. Is it possible for us to write a story that meets the demands of the way we read as sophisticated, worldy-wise C21st century citizens, while also doing justice to the fact that the values, attitudes and behaviour of the past are different? Are those two reconcilable? Does historical fiction require a different kind of reading mindset? I have wondered for a while if there are perhaps broadly three kinds of ‘historical novelists’: those who write in order to accurately reconstruct history in fictional or quasi fictional terms (Philippa Gregory or Hilary Mantel); those who write stories whose plot is reliant on and infused with the historical setting and thus which are historically very precise and well-researched (such as Harriet Steel’s novel Salvation, which I recently reviewed); and those (like me) who write novels which are not principally historical but work effectively in historical settings. Do you share that view?
JD: I think that is a fair breakdown, and, like your novels, I Stopped Time falls into the latter category. That said, I don’t think that readers or publishers are nearly so analytical. Hilary Mantel has raised the game for anyone writing in the broad historical genre. Her masterstroke in Wolf Hall was focusing on Cromwell, who was once hailed a hero but has been demonised by more recent historians, and humanising him again by starting with a scene in which his father beats him to a pulp and then showing the reader his love for his wife. Philippa Gregory is a historian who has chosen fiction as the medium through which she will make it more accessible, in particular to women, whose lives she concentrates on and who are so often left out of the history books.
The expectation once a story is given a historical setting is that the author will have researched that era thoroughly. You might think that going back further in time would give the author more licence, but readers are now so well-informed that there is no such thing as ‘getting away with it.’ I was very pleased to receive a book review from a historian who said that the historical detail in I Stopped Time was accurate, without being overpowering or slowing down the plot. I see that your review of Harriet Steel’s novel Salvation talks about the reader being overloaded with historical information at times. The real challenge is how to transport the reader to another time and place without doing this. So how much detail is too much?
EW: Perhaps it’s not a question of how much is too much, but rather how much is useful and how much is identifiable by the reader? I agree that readers are now better informed or can at least check out information more easily, but my concern is about giving them information that they can’t use or doesn’t enhance their imaginative interpretation. A writer I find challenging from that point of view is Nicola Upson, whose historical crime novels use the novelist Josephine Tey as their central character. The plotlines are always interesting and well-crafted but at times I feel overwhelmed by the authenticity, for the novels feel absolutely jammed with more detail than I feel I can process as a reader. I feel as if I am made too aware of the research, too aware of the historical markers as I read. And maybe this is the central conundrum of historical fiction: in our lives we don’t take as much notice of the signs which mark our world for the age it is, but when writers craft historical fiction, they seem to put in more detail than the average person would take notice of as they live their daily lives. What happens if a detail I’m given doesn’t mean anything to me, if I can’t use it to enhance my experience of the novel? I don’t read much futuristic science fiction, but I wonder if it is a similar conundrum there: how much detail do you need to make it feel authentic without slowing things down and cluttering the reader’s experience?
JD: Returning to the most recent ‘historical’ fiction I have read, what I particularly liked about the central character in Ned Beauman’s The Teleportation Accident was his complete lack of political awareness. Although Egon Loeser’s unswerving obsession over when he last had sex is an extreme example of self-absorption, happening as the action does in Germany in the 1930s. It is very interesting how the reader’s knowledge of the era is largely assumed and how the author uses this to his advantage. Although I hope that I am a little more aware than Loeser about what is happening in the world, I find it very interesting to look back at a decade I have lived through and think about what I now consider the most pivotal events were and how all of the pieces of the jigsaw fit together. You simply don’t see them at the time, at least not with a God’s eye view. With historical fiction, the benefit of hindsight that the reader brings to the book informs the way that the central character is judged. In the case of Loeser, Beauman’s skill is that, despite his many flaws, he remains likable. Rather than a simple obsession with lust, Loeser has convinced himself that he is in love, and the pursuit of love to the exclusion of all other activities somehow seems noble. At the same time, I love a good re-telling of a historical event from an unusual viewpoint, woven richly with historical detail, such as fiction by historian Alison Weir. In fact, Alison Weir’s non-fiction is also so beautifully written that reading it is a sensory experience. I am instantly transported to era with all of its colour, sound and smells. As with any writing, subtlety is key. The point at which fiction begins to feel like a history lesson is the point at which the author needs to pull back. The way to create an authentic experience is not by finding ways to shoe-horn in every fact you have uncovered. The same applies to any form of writing, whether it has a contemporary or a historical setting. The writer must know the character’s complete back story. They must then judge what the reader needs to know.

EW: The last question I’d like to ask you (though frankly we could go on all day!) is about how historical fiction can be a home to other genres. Crime is commonly set in historical contexts these days, but I blogged recently about how a historical setting can be an interesting frame for magical realist and supernatural novels. What’s your view on that?

JD: I agree completely. I am not widely read on magical realist and supernatural novels, but I particularly enjoyed Barbara Ewing’s The Mesmerist, set in London in 1838. Miss Cordelia Preston, an ageing out-of-work actress, terrified of returning to the poverty of her childhood, who emerges in the guise of a Mesmerist. One of the things that this book illustrates so clearly is how limited options were for women, and, save for the workhouse, how little welfare and support was available. The relatively recent past is a very valuable era to explore through fiction. Nostalgia is a very powerful force to draw on. Historical fiction is a tool by which we can measure the speed of change. I never fail to read fiction set the Victorian and Edwardian eras without thanking my lucky stars that I was born in the 1960s, post-war, with equality on the agenda and a right to vote. In his recent speech to graduating university students, Tim Minchin mentioned that the current generation will have a life expectancy and riches that their grandparents and great-grandparents would never have dreamed of. As the popularity of the series Who Do You Think You Are? demonstrates, there is a resurgence of interest in genealogy and a feeling of loss for all of those true stories that were never shared between the generations, of lost opportunities. With the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War fast approaching we are going to see more and more war dramas. The clever ones will challenge readers’ – or, in the case of the recent televised drama, The Wipers Times – viewers’ perception of what they thought they knew. The telling of a story through the eyes of one character, allowing the reader to live another life, makes it real. It brings history to life.
EW: Jane, this has been so interesting, thank you so much. I thoroughly enjoyed reading These Fragile Things, and this discussion has given me a fascinating insight into your ideas and motivations as a writer. I have I Stopped Time already installed on my Kindle and am thoroughly looking forward to reading it!
You can find out more about Jane Davis and her novels on her website, and about Evie Woolmore and her novels here at allonymbooks.

Magical Realism, Visionary, Paranormal…? EM Havens and Evie Woolmore in conversation

This week EM Havens, author of Dark Night of the Soul, and allonymbooks’ own Evie Woolmore discuss the challenges of labelling their books as magical realist or visionary or fantasy or….

Evie Woolmore: When I read your blogpost the other day about the success of Dark Night of the Soul (DNOTS) after its release, I was amused to read the statistics you gave us from the Kindle rankings – #1 in Metaphysical/Visionary; #1 in Fantasy Super Hero; #1 in Dark Fantasy; #1 in Visionary Fantasy; #23 in Fantasy. Brilliant to have done so well so quickly, but what a range of genres to sit across! How do you see the advantages and pitfalls in labelling your work by genre?

EM Havens: Thanks, Evie! Yes, I am brilliant…and humble. (That’s a joke. My husband said people don’t always get my sense of humor so I thought I should say.) But, let’s just get all the cards on the table. Those numbers are from my free promo days with Amazon KDP Select. They correspond to how many free books I gave away not actual sales. I did put a lot of time and energy into promoting the giveaway, but it’s really not that big of a deal. It’s just a fun little contest I have with myself to see how high I can get in the overall free books when I run a promo. I actually made it to the front page (#19 overall) with one of my other books. THAT was exciting.

 I also don’t have complete control over my genres. Amazon chose a couple of those for me. I think the benefit is that more people might accidentally stumble on to the book. I worry, though, that not only will readers be disappointed the story doesn’t fit their expectations of the genre, but  also that the broad spectrum will confuse people enough to forgo purchasing. It’s really a conundrum. I generally have a hard time pegging the genre down myself, so it’s kind of fitting. 
EW: It is a conundrum, I agree! I understand exactly what your concerns are about reader expectations, but I also wonder whether readers of quite broadly defined genres like magical realism, fantasy and so on, will be generally more open to variations in those genres? Are they generally imaginative readers less bothered (and more inspired!) by innovation than someone reading a very specific (and perhaps formulaic) type of paranormal romance? What’s your sense from the contact you have with your readers?
EMH: I think fantasy/scifi readers are more open. Not because they are fantasy/scifi readers, but because the genre appeals to their reading habits. I have to laugh every time the hard core Historical/Contemporary Romance readers in my writing group try their hands at critiquing a scifi novel. “I don’t get it.”, “I don’t understand.”, “You need to tell me more about where this takes place.”, and the list goes on of complaints in reading the first paragraph. Where as, I’m perfectly fine with being in the dark for several chapters, and I actually LIKE that! Not to say I don’t occasionally enjoy a straight forward Romance, but to each their own.
 The comment I’ve been getting most about DNOTS is: “This is not what I expected. I’m so glad I gave it a chance!”  Most readers have taken that chance on it because they enjoyed another of my works. They say it’s unlike anything they’ve ever read and find it hard to categorize, but the overall response is positive. 
EW: That’s a really interesting point about ‘being in the dark for several chapters’. I know what you mean and I enjoy it too. That’s where readers who do prefer historical novels struggle with MR I think, because they like to get their bearings early on. Authenticity is important in that sort of novel, but magical or alternative realism really challenges that idea. How can the reader know what authenticity they are seeking, when we are creating a new/alternative/magical world for them? It just doesn’t exist in the same way.
So the question all that leaves me asking myself is, what sort of problems am I creating for the reader by writing historical magical realist fiction?!!  Am I giving with one hand and taking away with the other?! I suspect that’s one of the reasons that publishing house marketing teams struggled to know how to pitch my books, because they demand contradictory things of the reader: a desire for authenticity and a suspension of belief.
So when you’re thinking about new books to write, are you able to harness that idea that readers think ‘This is not what I expected’? Does it help you be creative?
EMH: OH! Most definitely! Sometimes, if I get stuck on a plot line, I’ll brainstorm and try to think of the thing that will be least expected. I think you know what part of Dark Night of the Soul I did that on. LOL! But hey, it packs a punch I think. Readers have loved that part. I’ve also written a steampunk romance called Fate War: Alliance. The comment of, “This is not what I expected” showed up there too (in a good way!). I like romance, but I get tired of the same plot told a million different ways. I could almost tell you the page number in which the first kiss would be, or the first misunderstanding. When I wrote Fate War, I wanted it to be different, more real in how the characters interacted. People don’t just change overnight. I think that threw a lot of romance readers because they were expecting the same old, same old. But in the end, they really liked it. That may be crux of everything I write. I don’t want readers to guess what comes next, because that’s the kind of book I want to read too! I’m definitely putting the same touches in upcoming novels.
EW: A recent review of my novel Rising Up posed the question “is it right to use magical realism in this way when the subject matter [the Holocaust] is so dramatic?” In a blog a couple of weeks ago I explored the idea that by calling it magical realism we are acknowledging the relationship and the juxtaposition between the ‘magical’ and the ‘real’. Dark Night of the Soul considers the spiritual consequences of suicide and features a character whose death is a direct result of an ongoing war, so what are your views on that balance between the ‘magical’ and the ‘real’?
EMH: I think magical realism does what any good science fiction or fantasy does. Juxtaposing magic, fantasy, the future or other worlds with what we know, is like shining light through a prism.  It allows us to to look at things from another angle, through a different lens and bypass our preconceptions and imagine a rainbow of different possibilities from what our finite experiences permit. That being said, I actually believe in the supernatural and that it plays a part in shaping the “real”. I don’t think the two can be separated. But I’m sure that’s another question for another day!
EW: I really like that idea of shining a light through a prism, showing things at another angle. In my blog for the Magical Realism Blog Hop in July I described it as “part of the fabric of this all-too-real world, visible all along if only you would just tilt your head a little further to one side and set yourself free of some of your pre-conceptions.” I think these sorts of metaphors help readers understand what to expect, and how magical realism (or alternative realism as I considered in the Blog Hop) might differ from fantasy or other paranormal fiction.
We could go on all day, couldn’t we? It’s such a fascinating topic, and I am really delighted to have had the chance to chat about it with you, EM. I can’t recommend DNOTS highly enough to anyone who hasn’t read it, so do visit EM Havens’ website and find out more about her and her books. Thanks EM, stop by again soon!

Interview with Margaret Graham, novelist and ‘Words for the Wounded’ founder

Regular readers of this blog will remember a notice late last year about the writing competition for the charity Words for the Wounded. Founder Margaret Graham is a well-known and very successful writer of contemporary fiction and historical sagas, and an excellent tutor of writing also. Margaret talked to allonymbooks author Flora Chase about her ongoing involvement with the charity and the wealth of activities she manages to cram in.

Flora Chase: Margaret, since we first met at a writing workshop almost ten years ago at the Winchester Writers’ Conference, the book world has changed enormously. As a well-established and successful novelist yourself, what changes have particularly stood out to you as significant?

Margaret Graham: The e world! It is so powerful and easy that ‘DIY ebooks’ are riding high. But how to attract readers? Talks for the Women’s Institute or U3A maybe, press releases too? But let’s look at the e world: blogs in particular but it’s the same problem, how to draw people to them? I have started a couple of blogs – one of my own, and one for my charity, Words for the Wounded (W4W), which helps in the rehabilitation of wounded service personnel. A daughter does W4W’s social media for me at the moment and uses facebook, twitter, linkedin to encourage people to find the blog, whilst I mailshot friends. But obviously I need to get a grip and do it all myself. Crikey. Continue reading

Interview with Leigh Podgorski, author of Desert Chimera

38d73-bloghopbuttonsmallAs the third and final contribution from allonymbooks to the Magical Realism Blog Hop, Evie Woolmore interviews fellow magical realist and spiritual author Leigh Podgorski about her influences and how her experiences have shaped her writing.

Evie Woolmore: Readers of Desert Chimera may not realize that it was originally created as a play. Indeed, they may not appreciate how prolific and talented an artist you are across a range of art forms. Why do you work in different media and how do those different outputs influence each other?

Leigh Podgorski

Leigh Podgorski: Though I have written short stories and dabbled in some poetry, the main media I have worked in is screenplays, stage plays, and novels. Different media demand different discipline. There is nothing like crafting a screenplay to teach the craft of economy, the art of lasering in to the high point or the very “kernel” of every scene you create. In a good screenplay there is no fat. Stage plays teach you how to craft dialogue and character behavior. If you cannot tell your story through behavior and dialogue you have no play. Both of these formats have rather strict rules and time limitations. I trained in the theatre and spent many years practicing the craft as an actress, writer, director and producer. I love the American master playwrights: Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Clifford Odets, and Arthur Miller. The theatre is a community, collaboration. There is no discipline on earth that can duplicate the thrill of performing or having your words performed before a live audience. Of the three disciplines, however, novels are the freest of all forms. With the novel, there are no rules, no set format, and unless you are co-writing, no collaboration. There is you and your universe, as you populate it, as you create it. You can zoom inside your protagonist’s head, and turn around and zoom into your antagonists’; you can lead your audience back a thousand years or forward 10,000; you can create a whole new planet, a new country, a new county or city; you can even kill and resurrect if, and this is a very big if, you take your reader along for the ride, if you create a universe your readers believe in. In the theatre, if an actor breaks the fourth wall, that is the imaginary wall that separates the actor from the audience, the magic is broken and the audience is lost.  In a novel, if the author is unfaithful to her universe, if she writes something that causes her reader to no longer believe in the world she has created, the author has broken the magic, she has shattered the illusion, and the reader is lost.  In the end, whatever discipline I have worked in, I have learned that it is all story.  I am a storyteller.  Will my readers come along with me for the ride? Having worked in different mediums has enabled me to call on a variety of different skills to build my story universe and to check it for resonance and stability. If I am false, if I break the magic, my audience will tell me. My audience will be lost to me.

EW: That diversity also reveals itself in your fiction, for Desert Chimera and The Women Debrowska are extremely different books. Many have argued that publishing directly to Kindle and other e-book formats frees authors from the tyranny of having to stick to one genre, so I’m interested in how indie publishing has helped you as a writer?

LP: I have spent a lifetime as an artist; as an actress, writer, director, and producer. Most of that time has been spent in the theatre, and save for some extremely bad video recordings of plays, there is no lasting record of my theatre productions in any of the disciplines above except for typed manuscripts of my plays. I do have a film I wrote, directed, and produced that I adapted from my play entitled We Are Still Here about Cahuilla Elder Katherine Siva Saubel. From the time I began writing, and this includes stage play writing and screenplay writing, I remember hearing the argument: Do you write what you love, or write what sells? And of course there was the companion argument that an author must establish his or her “brand” in order to be able to market oneself. We have all heard the stories of well-known authors who write under pseudonyms when writing outside their genres. What the advent of Indie Publishing has done for me addresses many of these issues. First, Indie Publishing has enabled me to create a lasting record and product, for I am publishing not only e-books but print books as well. However, even as a Kindle and e-book publisher, Indie Publishing has enabled me to establish a growing Internet presence. With the technology available to us today, e-books can be quite stunning in design, as can Author’s pages. Marketing one’s work is not easy; it is often as consuming, if not more so, than writing, and writing is far more fulfilling and fun. When I am writing—as I am doing right now—I am in the midst of completing the third book in my Stone Quest series – I am able to accomplish very little if any marketing and vice versa, especially as I teach as well. There are only so many hours in the day. My goal is to make my presence so visible and my books so lucrative that I can become a fulltime writer with no need for any other job. Indie Publishing has given that dream hope. As for the question of what to write— what you love or what sells? Sometimes what you love becomes what sells. Sometimes what sells becomes what you love. Sometimes—none of it happens. “Hope is the thing with feathers” Emily Dickinson wrote. Indie Publishing has given me lots and lots of feathers. And that is a very very good thing

Desert Chimera by Leigh PodgorskiEW: Desert Chimera draws on a wide range of spiritual themes across several cultures. What inspired you to bring these together, first in the play and then the book?

LP: I have been fascinated with the metaphysical as long as I can remember. My favorite authors as a child were Poe and Asimov, and then, when I got a little older, Jung. I conducted research for a book Ouray’s Peak, about the Ute Indians. Their lives are so connected with the Earth and with nature in a way that non-native modern man is not.  I’ve also read a good deal of Tom Brown and his Tracker series; his influence can be seen in the characters of Luke and Grandfather. Armand Jacobi is an amalgamation of Anton LeVay, the creator of the Church of Satan, and L Ron Hubbard, the creator of Scientology. Both LeVay and Hubbard are fascinating men who created vast followings. Their spirituality, especially LeVay’s is dark, but they are charismatic, beguiling characters. I researched Satanism for some film scripts I was writing for a company that was producing horror films, and had read Messiah or Madman the book L Ron Hubbard’s son Ron deWolf wrote about him.  Eppie Falco is drawn from my work with Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross whom I interviewed for another play, Windstorm. Dr. Ross was a celebrated doctor who saw visions, communicated with the dead, and who, through her visions, taught us more about, as she said, not how to die, but how to live.  The play Desert Wolf was written about fifteen years ago. I was a member of a theatre company here in Los Angeles, and I developed it specifically for members of the company, one of whom is my husband, actor/director Dave Florek. Going from the play to the novel was very interesting. I had the opportunity to widen the scope and explore the spirituality of the characters far more intimately and deeply. This was especially true for Luke and Armand’s relationship while Luke lived with Armand and the lost boys in New York.

EW: What did writing the book offer you, in terms of exploring that huge range of material, that you couldn’t cover in the play?

LP: One of the largest frustrations I had with the play was the final showdown, the final duel between Armand and Luke in the Desert Wolf Café. No matter how brilliantly choreographed as a stage fight this scene could be, it could only remain a stage fight. Even if one could imagine all the wizardry of a high tech production of Wicked, and Desert Wolf had no hope of ever receiving anything close to a fraction of that budget, if it were to even be graced with a full production at all, when producing for the stage, one is, at the end of the day, limited by reality. What are the limits in a novel? Credulity, solely. Create your illusions sufficiently to entice your readers to believe in your magic, and you can take them anywhere.

EW: Finally, what one piece of advice would you share with other indie authors that you wish you’d known sooner?

LP: Write. Do not despair. Do not give up. It really does not matter if your book is # 2,987,342 on Amazon. It really does not matter if you never get to give up your day job. It really does not matter if nobody knows your name. Write because the only thing that really matters is your voice. Write because, besides breathing, eating, drinking, and sleeping, it is the only thing in all the world that you really have to do.

That’s a great piece of advice, Leigh, thank you! And thank you so much for giving up your time to talk to allonymbooks. 

You can learn more about Leigh and her work at her web site: www.violethillsproductions.com; or visit her Author’s Central Page @http://amzn.to/YomRl1Leigh can also be contacted via Facebook @ facebook/leigh.podgorski, @ twitter @ twitter/leighpod52.
*****

To read other blogs on the Magic Realism Blog Hop, please visit the other participating writers:

Zoe Brooks (and this one) – Kirsty Fox – Karen Wyld (and this one) – Leigh Podgorski – Tad Crawford

Lynne Cantwell – Murielle Cyr (and this one )- Joel Seath – Edie Ramer – Laura at Curated Bookshelves

Christine Locke – Susan Bishop Crispell – Jordan Rosenfeld – Eilis Phillips – Cadell Blackstock

and Evie Woolmore’s first blog hop blog

Evie reviewed Leigh’s novel Desert Chimera a few weeks ago. To find out about Evie’s own magical realist novels, please visit her page.

Evie Woolmore’s interview with Lector’s Books

Lector’s Books tells a wonderful tale of how a book can enchant you so much that you put your life on hold to read it straight through from start to finish. Fortunately for me, the book in question was my novel, Equilibrium (information about the story, an audiobook extract, and links to Amazon from the Equilibrium webpage).

So I was delighted when Lector’s Books invited me to give an interview about writing, about Equilibrium and about my new novel The Salt Factory, to be published later this month.  Read my interview, find out more about the excellent Lector’s Books website, and check out some of their recommendations for great indie published novels. Lector’s Books have also published a review of the novel on Amazon.