My first author, the launching voice for this branch of my blog, is Lisa Llamrei. Lisa is part of the large literary community in Uxbridge, Ontario and a fellow A Novel Approach alumnus. I guess you could say, then, that we are co-workers.
Hi Lisa, thanks for being my first victim. As you know, this interview is to let the readers know more about you and your work; a glimpse behind the Dust Cover at the real author, if you will. Athletes all seem to have scripted responses for the media and I’ve found that the same can be said for a lot of the author interviews I’ve read and seen on TV, so I want you to be honest. Just be you.
“Okay, but remember – you asked for it.”
First off, where are you now, in your writing that is?
“I am currently about 3/4 of the way through the first draft of my second novel, The Divine Measure. I’m also doing edits on my first, which is currently titled Lifetimes, but my editor indicated the title is the first thing that needs to go, so it will be renamed as soon as I think of something.”
Two books? Wow! Do you have more book ideas already waiting in the wings?
“Indeed I do. My next book will be a partial resurrection of the very first novel I ever started back in high school. That book was set in ancient Egypt during the reign of Tutankhamen. This one will be partly set in Egypt and partly in modern day. Unlike my previous novels, there will be a strong element of horror in this one. At least, that’s where I think it will go at this point. Neither of my first two novels turned out to be anything like I thought they would be, so you never know.”
Who knew that words on paper could be so fluid in their creation? When did you realize that writing is what you wanted to do?
“In high school. Unfortunately, at that age I lacked the persistence to stay with it long enough to write a novel. You might ask why I didn’t try short stories. I did, and quickly discovered I’m no good at them because they have a nasty habit of turning into novels.”
Makes sense, after all, a short story is just a page from a larger work. How long after high school did it take you to act on it; actively pursue writing?
“I made two more attempts at writing novels in my twenties. My persistence was better, but I couldn’t figure out how to structure an entire novel. Finally, in my mid-thirties I figured out a method that works for me.”
What steps did you take and which one was the most influential for you?
“A couple of years after I figured out how to structure a novel, I was still struggling with staying motivated. That’s when I joined the Writer’s Community of Durham Region, through which I found A Novel Approach writing class, where I found a group of people who kept me motivated enough to stick with it through all of the self-doubt. The fourth novel I started reached completion. Definitely, having a group of peers who were all at about the same stage and who helped and encouraged each other was what made the difference for me.”
Did you realize how much work was involved and when you did, did that deter you at all?
“I had no clue how much work was involved. It didn’t deter me, though, because by the time I figured it out, I was so deeply involved that there was no way I was going to quit.”
What subjects initially did you want to write about and is that what you ended up writing about?
“In high school, I was completely obsessed with ancient Egypt, so of course that’s all I wanted to write about. Neither of the books I am working on have anything to do with Egypt, although as I previously mentioned, my next one will.”
What changed that?
“I found out that historical fiction requires a TON of research and has to be very accurate and I was intimidated. In my twenties, I was a huge fan of Star Trek: the Next Generation, so the next two books I started were both science fiction. Then I realized that science fiction is even more intimidating because the readers are extremely well educated in science and will actually pick novels apart looking for errors. I finally settled on fantasy/paranormal because I can make it up. I don’t have to be accurate, just consistent. My novels do have a strong historical component and I am conscientious about research, but if I make an error, I can always fall back on the excuse that it’s primarily fantasy. And it’s fun writing a story where literally anything can happen.”
That’s a great quote! So, the story changes as you write or do you try to stick to a preconceived structure?
“Yes to both questions. I always start with a detailed storyline. And when I say detailed, I mean it can run to 25,000 words or more. However, when I’m writing the first draft, I have new ideas and think of new ways to resolve issues. I expect the process will be different for each novel. For Lifetimes, the storyline was so solid I never deviated from the main plot, although I did change details and even added and deleted scenes here and there. With The Divine Measure, the storyline was not as well planned and I have now left it entirely.”
Do your characters come to life on their own or do you know who they are going into it?
“I always think I know, but then they go and do things I don’t expect. The Divine Measure is the perfect example. Somehow, a powerful attraction developed between the two main characters. What was supposed to be a bit of gratuitous sex at the end of the book has turned into an entire romantic sub-plot.”
Sounds like your characters had a hand in derailing your initial plan. Do you ever have doubts and if so, how do you overcome them?
“I have doubts all the time. Usually, I just tell my inner editor to shut up, I’m trying to write. Seriously, though, at some point I made a decision that I was going to write a novel for ME, because I’ve always wanted to do it and it didn’t matter whether it ever got published or even if it was any good. I would write it just so I could say I did it and worry about the next step, if any, then. Belonging to a community of writers is also a tremendous help. When I see authors who I know are absolutely brilliant having the same doubts I do, it makes me think that perhaps I don’t suck nearly as badly as I think.”
What great advice! Are you an avid reader and if so what kind of books do you like to read?
“I am. I’ll read any genre, except romance, as long as it’s well written. Historical fiction and urban fantasy are my preference, especially when they’re combined in one book, so as you might guess, The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley is my all-time favourite. Shogun, by James Clavell is also close to the top of the list. My favourite authors, in no particular order, include Diana Gabaldon, Philippa Gregory, Laurell K. Hamilton, Robert J. Sawyer, James Rollins, Patrick Rothfuss, Jody Picoult, Kathy Reichs, Edgar Allen Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I also read a fair bit of non-fiction, especially history and mythology and that’s often where I find the inspiration for my own stories.”
What has been the hardest part about writing?
“Applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. It’s so easy to come up with excuses not to write.”
HAHA!! I have that problem too. Tying myself to the chair didn’t help either. It has wheels… Any advice for other new writers, beside getting a chair with no wheels and a supply of sturdy rope, that is?
“Just do it. Don’t worry about what others might think, write for yourself and do it. No matter how busy you think you are, make time for it.”
Could you give us a little sample of your finished projects? A tease to keep us until you make print?
As a child, I must have been a great embarrassment. I knew nothing of my true nature, only that I was considered very strange. ‘Changeling’ was a word I often heard used to describe me. Adults always voiced it in a whisper, with an expression of distaste. I marveled at how frequently it was uttered in my presence, as if adults thought me either deaf or dimwitted or both. Children at least made no pretense of sparing my feelings.
I do not mean to imply my childhood was lonely. It most assuredly wasn’t. I had many friends and was seldom alone. As many days as possible, I would escape from the house and run into the woods beyond the town. It was in the woods where I met my friends. The people of the woods were most unlike the people of the town. They dressed in the Irish style with a leine – a long garment, very like a smock. The townsfolk, myself included, were Anglo-Norman and, thus, far more modern. My gowns were loose-fitting, with long, tight sleeves.
I heard it said I was one of these strange forest folk, for that is what ‘changeling’ meant, but I could scarce believe it. At the age of six, I stood head and shoulders above the tallest of them and knew I would grow much bigger still. I did learn early on, however, not to speak of my forest friends to anyone in the town. To do so always elicited a strange look accompanied by the sign of the cross and ever more whispers of ‘changeling’.
From The Divine Measure:
I pick up the dropped tablet. It’s full of pictograms. One looks like a mountain, another looks vaguely like a primitive hut. I glance up at him and shake my head. “I don’t understand.”
“You know. Read it.” When I hesitate, he takes my shoulders and shakes me. I try to break free, but he’s too strong. I throw the tablet to the floor and push against his wrists. His fingers bite into my flesh.
He starts to change. The brilliant robes become more modern, settling into a pair of khaki pants and a dark blue t-shirt. His curls straighten, his hair shortens and darkens. The beard disappears altogether. His face becomes rounder. It’s Mark. A wound opens in his neck and sprays me with blood. Blood soaks my clothes and my hair. I shove him away and run. Racing around the corner, I trip. A shadow sputters on the wall, growing larger.”
Thank-you for being a good sport, Lisa, we look forward to seeing you in print.
For more information about Lisa and her writing, you can find her at http://lisallamreiblog.com.
Joins me in October as I walk a mile in the gumshoes of another of Uxbridge, Ontario’s up-coming authors, Dave Jones.