Tag: interview

Blog tour: Carrie Patel’s The Buried Life

Posted July 3, 2014 by Nicky in Giveaways, Interviews / 4 Comments

People who already know my blog will know I’ve been excited about this book for a while, because I was involvedPhoto of author Carrie Patel, smiling (very tangentially) in acquiring it at Angry Robot (read all about it!). I’m amazed by how fast the actual release has come around: it doesn’t seem like that long since I met the team. Anyway, when the blog tour for The Buried Life was announced, of course I asked for a slot — I’ve championed the book since the start! (My review will arrive shortly. I intended it to be ready by yesterday, and then I somehow missed that it is now July. To prove that, I just typed “June”, the first time.)

So here’s Carrie Patel, graciously answering my chatty nosy questions!

Hi Carrie, it’s great to have you touring on my blog. I voted for The Buried Life in the acquisitions meeting I attended back in October, so it’s exciting to see it all ready to hit the shelves. It feels like it’s been no time at all, to me, but how’s it been for you?
Did you have to spend much time editing and tweaking it? Does it feel real yet?

Hi Nikki! Thanks so much for hosting me! The last several months have been busy and exciting—between getting ready for this release and working on the next book, the time has definitely flown. Fortunately, The Buried Life didn’t require too many edits, so I’ve been able to focus on writing the sequel. It’s still pretty surreal, though—I attended my first convention as a speaker last weekend, and sitting on the other side of the table felt unreal!

After my visit to Angry Robot, people were very keen to know things like how much input authors have into the cover designs of their books. I don’t actually know the answers, so what’s that whole process been like for you? Did you make any suggestions, or did it just appear like magic?

It’s funny that you ask, because it seems that the question of cover design comes up a lot. At the start of the process, Angry Robot asked me for any particular styles, images, Cover of The Buried Life by Carrie Pateland comparable book covers that would fit with the story and the atmosphere of The Buried Life. As I understand it, that’s unusually collaborative—many authors don’t get any input on cover design.

So, I sent Angry Robot a hodgepodge of images and reference covers that seemed to evoke a certain tone. My main request was not to feature the main characters on the cover. I don’t have an incredibly specific sense of visual aesthetics—I was more looking for something that hit the right mood or conveyed a certain atmosphere—but John Coulthart’s cover art was exactly what I was hoping for.

I know this is your first (published?) novel, so I just wondered how  long that process has been for you. Were you always gonna write, or did The Buried Life knock on your door and take you by surprise? How many hoops have you had to jump through?

I always wanted to write a novel, but The Buried Life took me by surprise. I’d played around with a few concepts before, but none of them had really stuck. Writing The Buried Life began as a kind of progressive experiment—the first draft was a challenge to see if I could finish a book, and each new revision was a test to see if I could fix it up for publication.

The revisions were probably the most important part of the process, and I learned a lot from having to analyse and edit my work like that. All in all, the process took a few years, but a lot of that was just time between revisions, which allowed me to come back to my drafts with fresh eyes and a new perspective. I wouldn’t want to take that long on future books, but the first time around, it was certainly useful.

Is there a character in it who you’d like to be more like? Or maybe even less like?

My husband (rightly) accuses me of being a little too type-A, which is a very “Malone” quality. I’m goal-oriented by nature, so I can sometimes lose sight of other things when I zero in on a goal. I’d love to be more like Sundar! He’s driven but kind, and he maintains a sense of humour in the face of adversity. He’s perceptive about people because he’s genuinely interested in them.

When I’m writing, I know that things sometimes come together in ways I wasn’t expecting. Did you have anything like that? What surprised you most while you were working on it?

The manner in which Jane’s and Malone’s stories came together and commented on one another surprised me. I always wanted to write them both as protagonists and perspective characters, but I don’t think I realized until I was well into the process how different the two characters really were and how much that affected their respective conclusions at the end of the story. I love perspective and the idea that two people recounting the same set of events can tell completely different stories, and that came through for these two characters in a surprising way.

What’s the most difficult part of writing, for you? Is it something in the process of writing (getting started, editing, letting other people see it) or is it on a narrative level (being mean to your characters, not letting them run away with the plot…)?

Getting a good plot foundation can be difficult, and yet I often have a hard time pushing forward with a book like The Buried Life (or its in-progress sequel) until I have that. I take lots of notes and make spreadsheets of characters, motivations, events, and themes, but there comes a point at which I’ve written just about all I can about the story without actually having written it. Figuring out what’s missing and how to plug a gap in the plot, or give a character a more solid motivation, can be difficult.

What media has influenced you in your writing? From just making you want to write to something that sparked some of the themes and ideas in The Buried Life — I’m interested in any kind of influence, and obviously I know you’re a narrative designer, so it certainly doesn’t have to be books.

Books were the biggest (and first) influence for me. When I was in school, I couldn’t go anywhere without one. I’d read on the school bus, in the car, and at restaurants if my parents let me get away with it. I did get in trouble (at least once) for reading under my desk during class. While I’ve enjoyed stories in many media, novels have been the most significant influence, and certainly the one that pushed me to write The Buried Life. There’s something uniquely personal about novels and the experience of reading them.

I don’t know how many people read the acknowledgements pages of novels, but I always like to. So who’s behind you, behind The Buried Life, who have you really got to thank for getting this far?

My husband, Hiren Patel, has been immensely supportive of my writing. His encouragement, and his focus in his own work, has pushed me to keep improving mine. Also, I might never have finished the first draft without Josh Sabio and Will Moser, two friends of mine who read it in college as I was working on it. Knowing that someone was waiting to read my draft was a huge motivation.

When I got more serious about revisions, my critique partners, Jacqui Talbot, Michael Robertson, and Bill Stiteler, were great about offering the feedback I needed to get The Buried Life the rest of the way there. I’d thank my agent, Jennie Goloboy, and the Angry Robot team, including Lee Harris, Mike Underwood, Marc Gascoigne, and Caroline Lambe, for taking a chance on a debut.

Finally, I thank my family—my parents, Richard and Jackie, and my sisters, Julie and Sydney—for their love and support.

Six word blurb of The Buried Life for newbies. Go!

Sinister conspiracy in an underground city.

Thank you for answering my questions, and I hope you have a whale of a time promoting The Buried Life. Congratulations!

Thank you so much! It’s been a delight to have you along from the beginning of this crazy ride!

So, everyone: don’t forget that The Buried Life is coming out in August. Preorders are a great push for any book, and you might want to consider doing that through an indie bookstore. Once it’s out, it’ll be available DRM free through Angry Robot, but also on major ebook sites for convenience.

One of the great things about Angry Robot (and Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A, when we still had them) is their willingness to take on debut authors. Let’s give them no cause to regret it!

In the meantime, I have my own copy already, so here’s another giveaway — comment here with a link to somewhere you’ve promoted this blog post (twitter, your own blog, facebook, tumblr, any mention counts) and you get an entry. On the day the book is released, I’ll draw a winner and buy them a copy via The Book Depository (or a retailer of your choosing that can take my order and deliver it to you). If there’s significant interest, I’ll pick two winners, so you increase your chances by spreading this to a wider pool of people.

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Interview with Eva Stachniak

Posted March 19, 2014 by Nicky in Interviews / 0 Comments

This has been in the works a while, so I’m really glad to note that today I have the Canadian writer Eva Stachniak here, doing an interview and promoting her new book, Empress of the Night, which is historical fiction based around the figure of Catherine the Great. That’s coming out in the UK on 25th March with Traverse Press. More info here! Eva is a new author to me, and I’m interested to dig into her portrayal of Catherine the Great; I hope you guys enjoy her interview here. So, here goes —

Hello, Eva. Thank you for agreeing to do a little interview with me! I’m sorry if these end up being questions you’ve been asked a dozen times before, but I’m new to your work, and so are most people who normally read my blog. Now, I think everything you’ve written is historical fiction, right? How do you choose the setting? Are these periods/places/people you’ve always wanted to write about, or have you come across them while researching and had anyone capture your imagination?

Author photo: Eva StachniakMy first novel was more contemporary than historical, but, yes, I mostly write historical fiction.

How do I choose what I write about? Each book follows its own path, although there are some similarities. I’m drawn to women characters, especially strong, immigrant women, because their experience speaks to me on a personal level. It may be hard to see Catherine the Great as an immigrant, but when she arrived in Moscow at fourteen, she was a minor German princess, and it took her many years to assimilate and become as Russian as she could possibly be. Sophie Potocka, from my novel Dancing With Kings, was a Greek peasant girl who showed up in 18th century Poland, married one of richest Polish aristocrats, and never looked back. Both Catherine and Sophie are, of course, historical figures. My fictional characters are also uprooted and transplanted into new worlds. Varvara from The Winter Palace, Anna from Necessary Lies.

I know you were born in Poland, and from the summaries and interviews I have looked at, it seems like most of your work is connected to Poland. That’s a country and history I don’t know much about. Do you hope that through your novels you can interest people in and teach people about your background? Or is that just a side effect of writing about something deeply significant to you?

I was born and raised in Poland, behind what was known as the Iron Curtain. The stories I heard in my childhood and adolescence come from there. I’m drawn to them because they are deeply significant to me and—I believe—universal in their appeal. I don’t want to teach—I don’t think novels should teach anything— but I want to share stories that had sustained me, stories that are part of our wider, European heritage.

The Polish borders shifted many times in the course of history,  from east of the Oder River to present day-Ukraine. I was born in Wrocław, which until the end of WWII was German Breslau. Catherine the Great was born in Stettin which is now Polish Szczecin. My paternal grandfather was drafted into Russian Imperial Army, my ancestors were subjects of Catherine the Great.  Thus a Polish story becomes also Russian or German. I believe that there are no Polish stories without a significant European connection of some kind.

This is why I probe them, explore their meanings.

I’ve actually done a course or two on historical fiction, because it’s a topic that really interests me, and I don’t think my professors or fellow students would forgive me if I didn’t ask about this — what sort of sources do you use? Have you come across anything particularly interesting in the process?

I’m a lapsed academic, so I find the research part of writing addictive and very rewarding. For my 18th century novels I read memoirs and letters by all my major characters. I also read their biographies, not just the recent ones, but those penned in the previous centuries. Sometimes research done for one novel, carries on to the next. When I was writing Dancing With Kings where two of the characters are surgeons, I immersed myself  in the memoirs of 18th century doctors and researched 18th century medicine—a lot of which I could use in portraying Catherine the Great’s Scottish doctor in Empress of the Night.

One of my most favourite sources for details of the 18th century Russian life were The Russian Journals of Martha and Catherine Wilmot.  The Wilmot sisters were protégées and house guests of Princess Ekaterina Dashkova, a close though estranged friend of Catherine the Great.  Newly arrived from Ireland, curious and willing to learn as much as they could, the two adventurous ladies described what they saw and experienced at a Russian country estate. Their journals and letters offer a wealth of details, a treasure-trove for a writer.

So really you’re here to talk about your new book, Empress of the Night. It’s being promoted as a “follow-up novel” to The Winter Palace. Did you know you were going to write it when you wrote The Winter Palace? Or did you finish that book and find that you still had things you wanted to say about Catherine the Great?

Cover of Empress of the Night, by Eva StachniakIt was always a two book project; I found Catherine too complex to do her justice in one novel.

The idea was to show Catherine from two distinct vantage points, external and internal. Thus The Winter Palace tells Catherine’s story through the point of view of a close confidante, while Empress of the Night lets Catherine herself take centre stage. The Winter Palace concentrates on the younger Catherine, a woman who is reaching for power, while Empress of the Night focuses on Catherine at the end of her life, reflecting on a life she had. I see the two novels as bookends, with historical Catherine the Great in the middle, works of fiction illuminating history, offering readers not just the facts of Catherine’s life but the experience of them.

Obviously Catherine the Great was an amazing woman (whether people like her or not), and under her rule Russia became very strong. But do you like her? What drew you to write about her?

I do like her, although I do not approve of many of her choices or political decisions, and I like her less at certain periods of her life.

I’m drawn to her energy, her dedication to what she considered her job, her sense of purpose, the breadth of her interests and passions. She was a very modern manager, excellent at motivating those who worked for her, using their potential to the fullest. I often say it, jokingly, that I wish she had been elected the Queen in Poland. With a monarch like her, the 18th century Poland would have fared much better.

The problem with historical fiction for some people, particularly when it involves public figures whose lives are well known, is that we know how it ends. Did you find that a problem in writing this, or didn’t it matter for what you wanted to do?

It didn’t really matter. Tension and suspense can be created in other ways.UK cover of Empress of the Night by Eva Stachniak

Unless a historical novel tells a story of a fictional character, we cannot help knowing how things turned out in the end, who will live and who will die, why and how. Readers of historical fictions are like the spectators at a Greek tragedy who knew their myths very well and yet they flocked to the theatre for yet another rendering of the story of Oedipus or Antigone or the Trojan war.

For a writer, this means that how things happened must take precedence over how they ended. A historical novel must create suspense from what is still a mystery:  the character’s emotions and motivations that were driving their decisions.

Where do you want to go now with your writing? Are all the stories you feel you have to tell from the same setting/time period, or are you planning to go somewhere else? Do you even know — are you just going to see what strikes you?

I’m now working on a novel set among Russian exiles before WWII. It is not exactly a continuation of my Catherine the Great novels, but it takes place during the final unravelling of Catherine’s empire. In the streets of Paris, Berlin, and London, Catherine’s descendants rub shoulders with Imperial artists, all of them exiles, cast adrift when Russia plunged into the Revolution of 1917.

Beyond that I do not think.  Some story will grab my attention, turn into another novel.

I know people aren’t supposed to pick favourites among their children, but is there a book of yours that you’re particularly proud of, or which is particularly dear to you? Or perhaps a book you’d recommend new readers to begin with?

The book I’m working on is always my favourite, because it is still truly mine. But I would recommend The Winter Palace as a starting point. It is a perfect introduction to Empress of the Night,  showing Catherine the Great in the first two decades of her life, a woman who reaches for what she wants, not yet aware of how much she would have to pay.

Are there any particular writers who have influenced you, who you’d recommend to people who are interested in the kind of books you write?

 To many to mention, but here are a few.

Hilary Mantel is a genius of historical novel writing and I’d recommend Wolf Hall followed by Bring up the Bodies. I also admire Kate Grenville, the Australian author of The Secret River which combines family history with the history of a continent, Rose Tremain’s Music and Silence and Colm Tóibín’s The Master.

One last one: are you a bookworm like me? The name of my blog is “the Bibliophibian”, because it does feel like I’m swimming (though thankfully not drowning) in all the books I have. How’s your TBR pile?

 Growing with each day, sometimes too fast for me to cope. I’m reading biographies of 20th century Russian exiles, dancers, choreographers, writers, painters, and tricksters of various shapes. I’m reading Memoirs of Bronislava Nijinska, The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky, and memoirs of Felix Yusupov, one of the murderers of Rasputin. Biographies of Sergiey Diaghilev and Anna Pavlova await me, and a marvellous history of ballet, Apollo’s Angels.

And then, when I need a break from this rather focused TBR pile, I’ll start reading Deborah Swift’s  The Lady’s Slipper.

Wow. I wish I had that focus!

Thanks for answering all my questions, Eva. For those who’re interested in her work now, her books are available as ebooks and it looks like once Empress of the Night (link to goodreads page) is officially out on March 25th, all of them will be available in the UK — at least on Kindle, and of course, apart from Empress of the Night, as hard copies as well. Now to restrain myself from buying The Winter Palace

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An interview with Lynn

Posted November 22, 2013 by Nicky in Interviews / 5 Comments

Hi folks! This is the first author interview post I’m doing here. I hope to do more in future, though I haven’t got any lined up. If you think you’d be interested in being interviewed on this blog, get in touch with me at bibliophibianbreathesbooks@gmail.com and let me know what books you’ve got out there and why I should be interested.

Lynn E. O’Connacht has been mentioned a few times on my blog before. She’s a friend, and she recently has an ebook out on Smashwords, Feather by Feather and Other Stories. (Amazon UK, Amazon US.) She has two short stories available for free, too: The Witch and the Changeling, and The Swan Maiden. I encourage you to check out her work, especially if you find this interview interesting.

So, here we go.

Cover of Feather by Feather and other stories, by Lynn E. O'ConnachtHi, Lynn. What’s the first thing you’d like new readers to know about you? Is there a particular story you’d recommend they start with?

Hi. ^-^ Thank you for having me. You’re a sweetie. The first thing I’d like new readers to know about me… Hmm… You don’t start with easy questions, do you? *laughs* I guess the first thing I’d like readers to know is that I appreciate their taking a chance on my stories and hope they’ll enjoy them and… That’s not really where you were going with that question, was it? *thinks* No, I’m sorry. That’s all I’ve got.

As for a story to start with… I’d suggest either The Swan Maiden or The Witch and the Changeling, actually. They’re both also collected in Feather by Feather, but they’re free and they’ll give readers a good idea whether they’ll like my general style before buying (or sampling) the collection. The first is a short fantasy romance and the second is a brief folktale-esque story about, well, a witch and a changeling.

If you’ve picked up Feather by Feather already then I suggest reading them in order. I’ve tried to mix up the weaker and the stronger stories, so there’s no perpetual low at any point.

You’re self-publishing your work, so I’m wondering: is that a decision that took a long time to come to, or was it a no-brainer? Do you hope one day to go the mainstream route, or are you enjoying your freedom?

It’s a little bit of a mixed bag. I’m actually working on becoming a hybrid author, someone who’s both traditionally published and self/indie-published. I have enjoyed the freedom a lot and I admit that it’s a major factor in my decision, even though it actually makes more financial sense for me to plug away only at traditional venues. I’ll have to see what the future brings, but I doubt I’ll go traditional-only. I wouldn’t able to write all the stories I want to the way I want to.Cover of The Witch and the Changeling by Lynn E. O'Connacht

What’s the most challenging thing about self-publishing your work?

Hmmm… Depending on when you ask me that’s probably hitting the publishing button or getting the word out. (Hitting that button is so, so scary.) But getting the word out is pretty challenging too. One of the best ways to introduce people to your book is by word-of-mouth and bloggers, but a lot of bloggers, especially the bigger names, won’t accept self-published titles for review at all. The last time I was active in the book blogging community I didn’t accept self-published titles either. Part of that is because I didn’t have a way to read ebooks at the time and sending print books overseas is very prohibitive, but I admit that another part of it was the stigma about the quality of self-published works. I’ve had several absolutely wonderful experiences with indie authors since then, though, and I hope I’ll be like that for other readers out there too.

There are some stories that come easy, and some that really don’t. What was the hardest story to write? Do you love it more or less because of the effort?

The hardest story to write in Feather by Feather? That’s probably a toss-up between the peeweww stories or The Passage of Pearl. Every story, easy or hard, comes with its own set of challenges, so they were all difficult for their own reasons. Those two are just the ones I suspect were the hardest.

The peeweww stories were hard because I’m a non-visual writer and every aspect of those stories rely on visuals. There are no humans, or even humanoid characters, in the peeweww pieces, so the narrative needs to be heavier on the description to get the world across. Not only that, but peeweww communicate through imagery.

With The Passage of Pearl I just struggled a lot to get balance right and there were a fair amount of external things that kept going wrong and undermining my confidence in the piece as a whole. I’m really pleased with how it turned out, though! It’s a very quiet novelette.

What was the first fantasy book world you remember getting lost in? Does it still seem so exciting to you today?

I’m going to say The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I don’t remember getting lost in it, exactly, but it’s the first fantasy book world I remember that wasn’t a fairytale. I always call it the book that sold me on fantasy. ^-^

My dad read it me when I was a teeny tiny Lynn and couldn’t read by myself and it was the only book he ever did read to me. He’s dyslectic and doesn’t like reading because it’s really hard for him to do, so it holds some very special memories and it always crops up when I’m asked a question like this.

I’ll be honest and admit that it actually doesn’t seem so exciting to me today, but that’s largely because someone read the book to me that first time and ever after I read it on my own, in silence. Tolkien’s books are meant to be heard and listened to. A couple of years ago I got a chance to snap up a cd with Tolkien reading excerpts of his own works and… it was magical. One of the most beautiful bookish experiences I’ve ever had. Having the books read to me just brings the world to life in a way that reading it doesn’t. (It’s odd because I normally can’t stand listening audiobooks. They’re so slow compared to my own reading speed.)

Cover of The Swan Maiden by Lynn E. O'ConnachtQuite early in our acquaintance, we had a conversation about narrators which changed my viewpoint on it entirely. Would you like to ramble a little bit about that here? Do you have any suggestions of authors who do it right?

I can certainly try to ramble a bit about it! I think first person narratives are the most difficult to write well. What I look for in a first person narrative is relatively simple from a reader’s perspective: I want a story that convinces me the narrator would be telling this story to reader (or writing it down) and I want the narrative voice to fall apart, more or less, when I’m substituting the pronouns with third person ones. Failing that I’ll settle for a story or set of characters that’s at least compelling enough to ignore the issues I’m having with the narrative.

From a writer’s perspective, what I want is really, really hard. They’re extremely high standards and I’ll freely admit that I don’t meet them either. Most authors don’t. Those that do tend to have written an epistolary (such as Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land by John Crowley), made the narration a central part of the structure (Chime by Franny Billingsley), or have a very clear and defined voice (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon).

So those are three examples of first person narratives I find well-done for various reasons. I’ve actually had to lower my standards a little since we had that conversation, since I had a fairly long streak of books that were in first person, failed to do what I wanted them to do, and still didn’t make me want to throw them against a wall in frustration. I’m still trying to work out what those authors are doing differently, so I haven’t quite refined what I’ve learned into words yet.

I also really appreciated the first person narration in The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford works. It’s one of the best examples of an unreliable narrator that I’ve read. And, of course, Jo Walton’s first person narratives. I have a bit of a hit-and-miss relationship with her works, but I do appreciate the way she tackles first person.

And here’s a silly one to finish on: if you had the opportunity to have dinner with an author (living, dead, it’s all possible for our purposes here), and no issues of shyness would get in the way, who would you pick?

I like the circular nature of the difficulty of these questions. I know that’s not intentional, but still. It amuses me and I’m a silly. I think… Charles de Lint or Guy Gavriel Kay. I’ve loved almost every book I’ve read by them and I think if shyness wasn’t an issue I’d find talking about writing and whatever else we’d drift onto absolutely fascinating and quite educational.

Thanks for answering my questions! It’s lovely having you here on my blog.

You’re welcome! Thank you again for having me and asking the questions. I had fun answering them. If readers have any other questions for me, I’ll try and answer them in the comments if that’s all right with you. ^-^

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