I recently had the opportunity to meet up and coming author Alice M. Later this year she will be publishing her debut novel, “Maybe and the Wolf” and I for one can’t wait to read it!
Liz: I understand that you have a novel coming out soon. Congratulations! Why don’t you tell us more about it?
Alice: I have a novel coming out this year called “Maybe and the Wolf”. It’s about a slightly messed-up drug addict in her twenties who gets on a Tube train after a party and seems to stumble into a fairy tale.
“Maybe” is slipstream literature: a cross between magical realism and fantasy proper.
Liz: Do you have a favorite line you would be willing to share with us?
Alice: My favourite single line in “Maybe” is possibly something the wolf says: “Originality is an art that becomes more difficult to achieve with each passing day.”
Liz: How about a favorite scene?
Alice: My favourite chapter in “Maybe” is narrated by a member of a xenophobic, technologically advanced species called the Efrit.
They believe that the mineral essential for magic use is God’s mortal remains — which were scattered throughout the world at the end of creation, when God died. For them it’s blasphemous to consume this mineral or to use it on or in living bodies, because that action is an attempt to bring something mortal closer to God. So, instead of learning how to use magic personally, they applied it to inanimate objects — hence their strong technological legacy. Their settlements are entirely mobile; they migrate when they need to replenish raw materials.
The Efrit are so private they avoid contact with other intelligent species at all costs; other nations ignore them entirely, most of the time. In many cultures, the general public doesn’t believe they exist.
You can imagine how much fun that was! I loved writing it.
Liz: Do you have any tricks to keeping your characters believable?
Alice: I write dialogue quickly because dialogue is such an impulsive thing; if you ponder every single word it dies. I write dialogue knowing what each character wants from a conversation and let it play out as it goes. It’s rather like playing a board game with yourself — very strange.
Liz: Your book had to require a lot of world building. How did you keep it believable?
Alice: I do a lot of research. I look up everything I am not entirely certain about. I look up things I’m certain about just in case. I also keep loads of notes. They’re not in any particular order, so I have to go through all of them at once to find something. (Urrghgh.)
Liz: How do you deal with writers block?
Alice: Badly. I sulk.
For the first few days I play games and watch the telly. If it progresses beyond a few days I make myself sit in my office and I stare at the screen. I put on music. If after ten hours of this writing is still slow and painful and everything I write is shit, I take another few days to faff about.
If the block still persists, I force myself to write no matter how painful and slow it is. I’ve written six or eight chapters this way…I had horrible block for about three months. I thought I would have to rewrite them entirely when my block went away again. I didn’t — the writing is solid and readable, and there are even a few quite lovely passages.
Writer’s block shouldn’t prevent you from writing. All it means is that you’re going to have to buck up and force your way through.
Liz: Editing. Do you love it or hate it?
Alice: Adore it.
I often do it like athletes do warm-ups before a run. I’ll fix the last few pages of my WIP and then kind of edit off the end of the page.
Liz: What is the hardest part about editing?
Alice: Editing the big things: flow and character development. Things that develop gradually throughout the book. I sometimes feel that I’m too close to a manuscript to spot problems with those things. I fret about them constantly.
Liz: What was it like when you knew you knew the book was finally done?
Alice: It’s nerve-wracking. I keep thinking I should go back and fix something. I keep worrying that I missed something huge and important, that some reviewer or beta reader is going to say, “Er, your prose is ugly and I had to stop reading after chapter two,” or something like that.
Liz: Who did you go to for support when you were writing “Maybe”?
Alice: The love of my life is my first port of call when I’m feeling insecure. He usually doesn’t help much because he’s far too practical, so after that I sit around dejectedly for a bit. Then I go whine to my writing group. (Holla!) They’re lovely and they’ve believed in me from the first day I met them.
But the best sort of support is praise from people I don’t know and who have no reason to flatter or console me. It makes me absolutely giddy when a stranger tells me they’re excited to read my book.
My head also starts spinning when my publisher says something good about my work. She’s been an absolute rock from day one.
Liz: Why kinds of emotions have you gone through during your journey to being published?
Alice: Pride, fear, anxiety, obsession, apathy, irritation. Most of all, though, I’m content. I’ve always, always wanted to do this for a living. The closer I get to that dream, the better life is. I have worked so very many hours — writing and editing, trying to get better, knowing I wasn’t good enough, not showing my work to anyone.
And then the first time I think I might be good enough to show the world what I’ve been working towards, I get snapped up by a publisher who reads my work online. It’s wonderful.
Liz: Did you go through an agent to find a publisher?
Alice: Nope! I’m unagented. My publisher approached me directly and after careful thought I decided to wait. I will eventually query agents but my relationship with my publisher is healthy and happy.
My contract is very clear and advantageous for both of us — my publisher prefers that I keep the vast majority of my rights because for the moment she’s only interested in licensing particular things. My contract stipulates that I retain every right not specifically licensed to my publisher in the contract. If and when she wants more rights, we’ll revise the contract. My contract also gives me a measure of creative input about my book, which is brilliant and not something most authors can say.
Liz: How many backups do you have?
Alice: The novel is backed up so many, many times, I’ve lost count. I print out each new draft of each chapter and pop it into a file. I’ve filled one 3-inch file and one 1.5-inch so far. I also save drafts in multiple places: on my computer, on a removable storage device, and two places online.
My notebooks have no backups. I’m mortally terrified of fire. One of these days I need to scan them in.
I once lost a notebook because someone nicked my travel bag. The bag also contained my dress for my graduation dance at the end of secondary school (like Prom here in the U.S.). It was a vintage piece that my mum and I found for almost nothing in a little charity shop in Haworth, in West Yorkshire. What upset me the most was losing the story in the notebook. The thieves likely just kept my GameBoy colour and my dress and chucked the notebook. Bastards.
Liz: Do you have any suggestions for those of us who hope to follow in your footsteps?
Alice: Make sure your first page has a hook. Every manuscript needs a hook on the first page and a compelling first sentence.
Liz: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you think I should have or that you want others to know about?
Alice: Yes! I genuinely love helping aspiring authors.
I’ll be giving away edits and critiques on my blog from time to time, so look out for that. Everyone should also feel free to ask me anything, or to start a conversation with me on Twitter, or in the CBox on the wordmongering website.
I tell my publisher I’m networking to spread the word about my book, but we both know it’s because I like socialising.
How to keep in touch with Alice.
Also, when Alice’s book comes out I will be doing a book review, so stay tuned and don’t forget to to leave a comment!