Saturday, March 21, 2009

Canada Calling: Vivian Arend

Vivian Arend is a Canadian author who loves the outdoors and incorporates her wilderness experiences into her writing.

PDD: You write in fantasy/urban fantasy settings, and different worlds require different rules. How much time do you spend developing rules for your worlds?

As much time as it takes! When I started on my first werewolf shifter story I read as many other shifters as I could over a two-month period. There were certain themes I found common in many of them- the full moon, biting, possessiveness, lifelong mates. In some places the authors had added variety. I choose the folklore I wanted in my world and started creating rules from there, for example, I wanted the predestined mates but the not the idea of being influenced by the moon.

When I decided to write a water shifter I couldn’t find more than one other novel to read, and that author had taken a very different tack than I wanted to attempt. So I started from scratch, asking myself questions about how I thought merfolk could fit into our world and stay hidden. I found an incredible illustration of a woman wading in an ocean cavern surrounded by iridescent St. Elmo’s fire and it inspired me to start the book. It was about a week’s worth of planning. If you’d like to see the picture I’ve got it on my blog.

PDD: Do you do this all before you begin the writing or does the world evolve as the book does?

I write off the cuff for the most part, so the world definitely evolves the farther into the story I go. Sometimes changes come from questions other characters raise and I realize I need clarity in an area. I’ve also found having good critique partners help immensely because there are times when I get too close to the story to realize I haven’t explained an issue. I –know- what’s happening, I just haven’t said it yet!

PDD:What kinds of things do you consider in world building?

For straight fantasy I need a list of the character types (elves, etc.) but the most important things for me turn out to be the history of the world prior to where my story starts and a map.

To produce the first I do two things: I write an ‘Epic Prologue’, which is NOT included in the final story, and I have one character tell a story the others. It is amazing how clearly writing in a traditional Homeric fashion produces an outline of history. And making a character recite what they consider a well-known and loved tale is like hearing someone quote ‘It was the Night Before Christmas’. It gives insight into the world and who lives there at the time in history.

And a map- I have a little talent in drawing, and adding the contours of the world makes it far easier to write scenes, especially if there is any kind of journey involved in the tale.

For the urban fantasy I’ve been writing I’m trying to really consider HOW the fantasy could fit into what we know as reality. If werewolves exist, how have they survived and remained hidden? How is the ability to change forms passed onto their children? It’s these questions that can be answered in new ways to make what I write different from any other authors.

PDD: You’ve said you’re concerned about genre wars. How did that concern come about?

One of the strangest conversations I heard this past year happened at a writer’s conference. As an avid reader of all genres I was surprised to overhear a couple of authors rudely criticizing other kinds of novels for their “lack of intelligence”.

As an author this concerned me. While I agree a poorly written book or a weakly edited book, which manages to reach publication, makes me cringe, rating the value of a book based on its genre alone seems to be counterproductive.

Considering the variety of styles and voices of authors, even with a genre, I think there is room for the different categories out there without people finger pointing and assuming that books along one shelf at the library are ‘better’ than another.

PDD: What would make peace between the different factions?

Over the years I’ve enjoyed classics, mysteries, thrillers, romance, fantasy, sci-fi, young adult, historical, war stories. The only thing I have difficulties reading is horror because my brain can’t take it—far too scary for me!

Just like there are different seasons to our lives in terms of what we have the time, energy and interest in pursuing, I think there are valid reasons to read different genres. When I had two children under the age of three I wasn’t looking for books that required deep concentration! I was sleep deprived. I wanted easier reads that still made my heart and soul happy. As my life situation has changed so have my reading habits. It’s still eclectic, but there are definitely genres that catch my eye and they will always be my first choice to read.

If part of the cattiness stemmed from the concern that in this day of decreased discretionary spending that one genre will steal sales from another I think we need to remember that readers have preferences they gravitate toward. You might write the best horror novels around, but I’m never going to read your work. But I promise to respect you for improving your craft, and continuing to put out the best books you possibly can that will thrill your readers to death.

Ultimately, isn’t that why writers, write? To touch people where they need to be touched? Whether it is a horror that makes their blood chill, a sci-fi that leads their minds into future worlds, a mystery that puzzles the mind or a romance that stirs the heart.

PDD: How does it feel to be not only a new writer, but a successful new writer?

I have been extremely fortunate, selling my first story so quickly. But I have also worked hard at what I’ve done. While I’ve written for a short time I’ve read reams of books over the years with a critical eye. That alone helped me emulate authors I admire while developing my own voice as a writer. I’ll be the first to admit that when I submitted I was woefully ignorant of the process. For example, I needed a synopsis to submit with my manuscript. I had no idea what that was. Wrote one out in a couple hours and submitted.

But –after- that first time I’ve learned so much. I’ve asked people I admire for suggestions. I’ve found out what a synopsis should look like. Now when I write one up and compare with my first effort, I have improved greatly.

The bottom line through out the whole process has been the –why- I’ve written. I didn’t feel a great yearning to write since I was young. I wanted to write a book. Period. It sounded like an entertaining activity to attempt and as I wrote I found enjoyed every minute of it.

Every step brings a smile to my face. Finding characters, fixing plot holes. Editing the word ‘over’ out of my most recent manuscript for the 200th time (seriously, I’m having major issues with repetition. I need to talk to my muse…) Getting to see the cover art for a story for the first time. Having someone email me that they are excited about reading my story because the heroine is deaf. The entire shindig has been a HOOT, and I’m so glad I decided to try and play.

PDD: Why don't writers have more fun? Or maybe another way to ask it—which is really a different question—is why do writers take themselves so seriously?

I don’t think there is anything wrong with taking writing seriously. For some, it’s their career; it’s consistent, demanding work, especially with deadlines to meet. But there’s a difference between taking your writing seriously and taking life too seriously. Any job I’ve done I throw my heart and soul into it and try to find the enjoyable parts.

If I want to be writing for a long time I need to be excited to go back into my current work in progress. I need to want to chat with readers groups. I keep thinking back to that bumper sticker that says ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.’ I’m going to be a multi-published author, and there’s a whole lot about the industry I still don’t know. If I’d waited until I knew all the answers I would have missed a whole lot of grinning.

PDD: That ties in with this topic… Watching other writers agonize over the details
Why is it that we do this? Is this a stumbling block that many writers can't get past (the forest for the trees kind of idea)?

As I’ve gotten to know more people within the writing community I’ve discovered there are many styles of writing. I have my method—fast and furious. It’s not better than other methods, but it’s the right one for me.

Still, I have to admit I think the quote attributed to Nora Roberts is completely correct. She said, “I can edit a bad page. I can’t edit a blank page.” Writers who stop and agonize over whether the wall behind the villain was gray or ash- they’re losing momentum. Tell the story, get the page filled, and edit the details later. I love my thesaurus, I really do, but I pull it out after I’ve written ‘The End’.

In case you are wondering what I’m talking about, an example I pulled off a writer’s chat room this past week… “I am stuck on finding this one word for a sentence in my story. It begins, I'm pretty sure, with a p, and means to speak very pretentiously. I can't find it on thesaurus or anywhere and it's driving me nuts. Please help!”

I wonder how long that poor soul had been searching for the word ‘pontificate’? The search for the perfect word stopped the flow of creativity for this individual and produced frustration. I shudder to think what will happen if down the road they sell the story and the editor asks them to remove ‘the word’. Perhaps they have simply made a note *p something* and continued to paint the broader picture with less accurate words, to enjoy the experience of creating.

When we were little and playing games of make believe, we didn’t make sure we all had our lines memorized before starting. We stepped into character and lived in the nursery as pirates and princesses and fairies at tea.

I think sometimes we need to remember the gift of childhood and just start playing.

Vivian’s first novel, Wolf Signs, releases March 24. She has two other books contracted for 2009 release. To learn more about Vivian and her books, visit her web site.

1 comment:

Sandra Parshall said...

Thanks for a great interview, Sharon and Vivian.

I have so much admiration for authors who have the kind of imagination required to write convincing fantasy! My own imagination is stubbornly rooted in reality, so I have to visit other people's books if I want to go somewhere truly different. Your books sound wonderful, Vivian!