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.

The Salt Factory by Evie Woolmore: new to Kindle next week

This week, Evie Woolmore discusses her new historical magical realist novel, The Salt Factory.

salty9_optionI was chatting to a friend the other day about my books and she asked, as people sometimes do, ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ I was able to answer, quite honestly, that the original idea for The Salt Factory came so long ago, that I can hardly remember. But it is a novel that, despite the agonies of plotting and rewriting, I have absolutely adored throughout.

As a reader, it is just the sort of novel I enjoy. It is a bubble of a world where time slows down and all the things we took for granted slowly stop being true. It captures that feeling of falling in love, of permanent change, of the dawning of a completely new perspective on the world. All those things happen to Thelonia Jones in one way or the other, and yet the novel isn’t really about any of them. It is, in the manner of all my novels, a book that seems to be about one story and ends up really being about another.

As Lector’s Books pointed out in my interview with them a couple of weeks ago, my novels do tend to have a twist in the tail, not in the sense of a thriller or a crime novel but in a subtle slide in the way the world is revealed. Unlike the writers whose magical realist works I admire, such as Erin Morgenstern or Carlos Ruiz Zafon, I do not simply present my alternative world as is, without explanation, because for me the explanation Continue reading

Author as genre?

This week allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore discusses the challenges of marketing across genres.

As I put the finishing touches to my new novel, The Salt Factory, and draw together the marketing plan to accompany its launch, I find myself facing once again that eternal dilemma: which categories to use on Amazon.

Fiction. Yes.

Now what?

In an interview with Diva magazine in 2011, author Sarah Winman was told by the interviewer that she was being described on the magazine’s cover as the new Sarah Waters. Winman’s reply? “Poor Sarah!…We’re very different. I don’t think I’ve earned the stripes to even be compared to her, quite frankly.” Winman’s modesty perhaps misses the point: when a generic label fails to be useful or available, an author name often stands in its stead. Yet which Waters was Winman to become? The “historical” novelist, the “gay” advocate, or the “supernatural thriller” writer, to name but three.

This is a tool that print publishers have used for years, describing an author as ‘the new’ somebody else. If you liked this, you’ll like that. It’s a testament to the old-water-in-new-bottles scenario that many feel print publishing has become over-reliant on, but it is also a mark of how little genuine development there has been that no one has yet come up with an innovative way for authors to market themselves differently.

I have blogged before about how rejections of my books by print publishers have generally concerned their perceived difficulty in finding a marketing pigeonhole for my type of novels. But if someone had actually asked me, I would have told them that if they liked Erin Morgenstern and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, then they would like my novels too. It’s a difficult thing to admit that one’s novel is bouncing off other people’s walls, when one of the things I know sets my books apart is the sheer originality of the ideas. But I can say with certainty that if you loved the imaginative possibilities of The Night Circus then you’ll love those same qualities in Equilibrium and The Salt Factory. If you think Zafón has captured the magical, mystical possibilities of Barcelona beautifully then you’ll find my evocations of the slip in time between contemporary and wartime Warsaw in Rising Up to be equally vivid and engaging.

I can say these things not because I copied what those writers did, because I didn’t. But  what I do have in common with them is a desire and an interest in using fiction to bend reality just a little bit to see what might be just beyond the boundaries of perception. I am nodding when I read them, out of admiration as a reader and out of understanding as a writer. You might no more describe Zafón or Morgenstern as science fiction or fantasy as you would an Evie Woolmore novel, but what are the alternatives? Indeed Amazon categorises The Night Circus as contemporary fantasy. But that category is so big that it also includes Ben Aaronovitch’s magic crime procedurals and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale as well as various vampire and imagined worlds novels.

Zafón himself considered this issue in a Q&A about the creation of The Shadow of the Wind, where he says “it is a story that is made of many stories; it’s a story that combines humour, it combines mystery, it combines a love story, it combines historical fiction – it combines many different genres, to create a new one, a new genre, a hybrid that does all those things as well.”

Unfortunately he doesn’t give that genre a name.

Perhaps there is something in reversing the process and  ruling genres out, rather than in. In what seemed at first a daring idea, I began to consider whether putting my novels in the Historical Fiction category really was the best thing to do. Certainly they all have historical settings, but then I began to wonder what sets one historical novel apart from another. And what do they all have in common? Historical authenticity seems an essential quality in a historical novel, and the recent trend towards the novelisation of historical figures (such as Hilary Mantel’s trilogy) is one of many narrow trends within a genre that might otherwise be seen as relatively homogenous. Authenticity is certainly important to me, and I do a lot of research to make sure that settings are accurate, but am I contributing something new to the genre of historical fiction? No, probably not. Because what I am contributing is nothing to do with the historical aspect. And so, by way of an experiment, I am relocating my novels from historical fiction to historical fantasy, because I am, like Zafón and Morgenstern and Aaronovitch and Attwood, trying to say something new in fantasy.

I should like one day not to be the new Sarah Waters or the new Erin Morgenstern or even a other-gendered reincarnation of Zafón, but to be the only Evie Woolmore. My books are recognisably a genre in themselves, historical fiction infused with an otherworldly setting, worlds where the boundaries are blurred and things are not quite what they seem. But for now, my readers will be able to find my books under the big and welcoming umbrella of fantasy, where minds are open to distinctive voices saying interesting things.

Love him or hate him, you’ll want to get to know him: Cadell Blackstock on his creation Crash Cole

You only have to turn on the TV or flick through a magazine to see how much attention our wicked sides are getting from the media and advertisers. Soap operas love their villains, newspaper column inches are devoted to moral ambiguity and the thinner sort of woman’s magazine is full of headlines including the word ‘cheat’. Doesn’t everyone love a rogue?

Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’ began seven years ago as the collision, literally, of two quite distinct ambitions. One of them was to concede at last the love-hate relationship I have with opera, that normally loiters in the shadows. Opera’s affinity with darkness is often revealed as compellingly as any movie and though I might never admit this down the pub, some of my favourite anti-heroes are not Loki or Blofeld but the operatic bastards: Mozart’s Count Almaviva or Puccini’s Scarpia. Operatic stories tend to be very good ones, if at times  laboriously realised for those of us who are tone-deaf or ignorant of German, and I had long felt that an operatic libretto might retell and translate effectively in novel form.

My other motivation was to try to process the increasing hysteria that follows people in the public eye, to try to understand it and fashion it in such a way that it became the backdrop to a story. The extreme reactions people show to public phenomena and public figures has only been exacerbated by twitter in recent years, but in 2006 one event in particular caught my attention. After the near epic reaction to the death of Princess Diana in 1996, the dragster accident which nearly claimed the life of British TV presenter Richard Hammond presented a different kind of challenge to the British public. Hammond was lucky enough to live, but he was seriously injured, and his rescue, recovery and rehabilitation were  exhaustively covered by the TV and newspaper media. I was fascinated by the level of interest shown in Hammond – a popular personality who, with his good looks, good sense of humour, knowledge of cars and bikes, and suitably British sense of self-deprecation, was appealing to both men and women – and by the way people responded quite personally to his situation. It wasn’t particularly that it could have happened to one of us rather than to him – he was driving a jet-powered dragster at 288mph when he crashed – but that his real life persona, his lack of artifice, and the fact that he wasn’t playing a character in his work made his accident very real to us. The inability of audiences to disassociate the real person from the fictional has always interested me, but here was an example of a very real kind of empathy. People literally felt for Hammond. After the emotional tidal wave around Princess Diana’s funeral it was a small step for me as a writer to imagine how that might manifest in a different way after an accident like Hammond’s.*

So, back to the story. Which opera to retell? I wanted to write about a huge character, big in the public consciousness. I wanted someone who inspires sympathy, empathy, envy, hatred and attraction. Someone men want to be and women want to be with. Someone who, when suffering a near tragedy, will inspire most of those people to want him to survive, perhaps in spite of their rational selves. Yet success does not generally come to those who have been entirely nice, good, or well-behaved. I wanted this figure to be divisive, dramatic, compelling but not necessarily in a good way. So who else but Don Juan, recast as Don Giovanni by Mozart in 1787? A great lover, adored by so many for what he is, not who he is, a man who takes what he wants without thought to the consequences. What men among us don’t secretly harbour a version of Don Giovanni inside them?

And so Crash was born, a mostly popular public figure, a façade, a construction of, by and for his fans, who has an accident which nearly kills him. Only is it an accident at all, or is it the consequence of Crash’s own actions, the wilful desire to have his own way finally caught up with him? On the verge of his passing, Crash is saved by the literal adoration of those same fans, their love and affection hauling him back from the brink of death. But what is the life that Crash almost left behind? And as he races the press to find out the truth about his accident, what will happen to the co-dependence between him and his fans? Can they keep him alive or will the truth kill him?

Seven years on since I first wrote the book, that intimate overblown relationship between star, media and public has become even more extreme than it was then, and perhaps it is a shame that twitter and facebook were not as strongly established at the time the novel was written to merit reference, though they would not have changed the story. Bringing the novel to publication in 2013, I decided not to update the novel to include reference to social media, because it was a detail that did not alter the central premise. It is not that the novel belongs to its time but rather, like Don Juan and Don Giovanni, that the story of love, hate and revenge stands the test of time.

Love him? Hate him? Crash is a divisive figure who feeds the public consciousness much as they feed his need to be alive. I hope you’ll want to get to know him though. He remains one of the best characters I have ever written, and I am delighted to let him out into the light.

To buy a copy of Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’ by Cadell Blackstock, visit Amazon UK or Amazon US or search the European Amazon sites for Cadell Blackstock)

*It should be noted that this is not a novel about Richard Hammond – if he will forgive me, it was only his accident that inspired me to write this story, and not the man himself. I was as relieved as anyone that he made a full recovery.

Indie Book Reviews (3): British Indie Authors (1)

This week Evie Woolmore flies the flag by reviewing books by three British (or British-born) indie authors.

Dogtooth Chronicals by Kirsty Fox

Despite its stark quasi-apocalyptic backdrop, Dogtooth Chronicals is in many ways a love letter. It is a saga, a fantasy/nightmare, an epic multi-dimensional, multi-narrative prophecy, and it is long. But – and perhaps this is where being a British reader reviewing a British novel really shows – it is truly a love letter to the cities, landscape and weather of Britain.

The novel is woven together from the first person narratives of a diverse and distinctive cast of characters whose lives individually and together are chronicled before, during and after a dramatic and world-changing weather event. That is to over-simplify the plot, for if it is a dramatically compelling portrait of how people survive in the most desperate circumstances, it is also an analysis of what parts of themselves are preserved and what parts are given up when people’s lives change beyond anticipation. Each of the characters is bearing the complexities of their past in some way, which will propel some forward and which others will finally be able to surrender.
It is far too complex a novel to discuss in a short review, and certainly some readers may be put off by the novel’s sheer length. For this reviewer, the opening section before The Weathers was Continue reading

Indie Book Reviews (2)

This week Evie Woolmore reviews a short story and a set of short stories, both rich with atmosphere, and a historical novel full of detail.

Leah and her Twelve Brothers by William Saunders (available at Amazon UK and US)

This collection of short stories has both a timeless and a very specific period feel to it, fusing a sort of Edwardian curiosity about the world with some quite contemporary touches. Leah waits at home while her twelve brothers explore the world, and she receives from each of them four gifts, borne by somewhat caricatured natives of the cities they are visiting. Leah weaves a story from each set of gifts, and then ponders its significance with one of three gentleman callers.

It is an interesting premise for a story collection – something of Sophie’s World meets Aesop’s Fables – and they often work well when woven together with a theme or narrative. Indeed in this instance, the collection allows the author to explore some quite philosophical and metaphysical ideas, as well as some moral ones. Leah is in some ways the most interesting of the characters, though for this reader the repetitive format of her receipt of the gifts, the encyclopaedia entries, and then the long opening descriptive prose passages of each story could have taken more variety. For while we learn much about Leah’s imagination, we don’t learn much about her character. Her male companions are rather stifling of her at times, and she never really develops very much, Continue reading

Indie Publishing: A Study in Modern Manners?

One of the themes of Evie Woolmore’s novel Equilibrium is the breaking down of boundaries, particularly social ones. In the novel, whose Edwardian setting reflects the very great tension between the public and the private, not only does Martha masquerade publicly in very few clothes as an inviting spirit from the other world, but the spirits themselves abandon appropriate privacies to speak their secrets directly. More than one character ‘says something they shouldn’t’ and the blurring of upstairs and downstairs, the movement of protagonists between front of house and back and between class environments fragments the natural order, and the proper codes of behaviour.

In an era of social media, we are constantly examining and questioning what those codes are, and in a climate of free speech and the ubiquitous mobile phone, the concept of privacy seems increasingly fragile. We know the details of countless strangers’ private lives, we could see the Duchess of Cambridge’s baby bump if we chose, and we can watch Oscar Pistorius cry in court. But the column this week is going to discuss three instances of how fragmentation of definitions of ‘appropriate behaviour’ has impacted indie publishing.

Twitter is constantly under scrutiny for the role it plays in freedom of speech, but an aspect of it which has become Continue reading