Friday, December 21, 2012

AMA: Answers part 1!

Wow, you folks are AWESOME! What great questions! Let's get started!

WARNING: Some of these contain very slight spoilers for the Eli series. Nothing big enough to put under a cut, but if haven't read past book 3 and/or are very sensitive to spoilers, you might want to exercise caution!

All good? Onward!
Paul WeimerWhat kind of genre fiction do you like to read for pleasure, Rachel? What is your favorite book you read this year? What sort of non fiction inspires you and your writing? Can you divorce the art of analyzing the craft when you read a book? 
I've always been a wide ranging reader, and since I've started writing, I've tried to reach even further. For non-fiction, I love research heavy sociological books like A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tells Us About Sexual Relationships (fascinating!) as well as lyrical non-fiction like The World Without Us, which (for the record) is one of the most beautiful and thought provoking books I've ever read.

For fiction, I love fantasy (duh), especially glorious epic fantasy, though I don't like really dark fantasy (bad people doing bad things for no good reason is an automatic put down for me). It's not that I hate excessive violence or gritty realism per se, I just tend to prefer lighter stories and happy endings. There's enough misery in the real world.

I also love romances, both of the paranormal variety and Regencies, Urban Fantasy, and weird, beautiful lit fic by people like Lynda Barry and Jeff Noon. My favorite authors whom I will never write like include Sarah Monette, China Mieville, and Margaret Atwood. And to balance out all that literary pretension, my favorite series of all time at the moment is Immortals After Dark by Kresley Cole. Regin the Radiant is my spirit animal.

As to the "can I turn off my writer brain long enough to enjoy a book" part of the question, the answer is... no. There is no off switch for the writer. I am constantly analyzing books to see how other authors put them together, and for the most, that's a good thing. I find all kinds of new tricks to steal! Sometimes, though, it can be annoying, but really, if the story's good enough, I get swept anyway. I have read some truly AWFUL books just because I loved the characters and wanted to know what happened. This is because, while I can never turn the writer brain off, my reader brain is by far the stronger influence, forcing me to stay up to unholy hours of the night finishing even badly constructed books because MUST KNOW WHAT HAPPENS!
ElizabethDid you write Eli as a morally grey character on purpose or did he just more or less present that way? Miranda seems to be the only.character that really balances out Eli's grey morals. Do you think the story would have been really different if their morals were reversed?
I love this question! You are exactly right when you say that Miranda balances Eli, because that's what I created her to do. From the very beginning, Miranda was meant to be the cop to Eli's robber, the hammer of iron clad responsibility to help remind him that he is actually a good person and make him do the responsible thing.

Eli came into my head fully formed, but that doesn't mean I didn't spend a lot of time figuring out exactly how he ticked. One of Eli's biggest struggles is his natural affinity for rule breaking (a direct result of his overly strict childhood courtesy of Banage) warring with his deep inner moral compass which, to his dismay, seems firmly planted on good. Eli wants to be outside the system, to steal from fools and ride high at the expense of a society he sees as overbearing and silly. He wants to do what he wants and is a fairly selfish person. But selfish people aren't always bad, and when push comes to shove, Eli always does the right thing. Miranda's role in the series is to be that shove. Without that dynamic, or even if it was reversed, I don't think the series would have been a quarter as much fun.

J. Leigh BralickWhen you wrote the Eli Monpress books, did you have all the interweaving threads that would pull together in book five identified at the very beginning? I just finished it (and ADORED it...and am working on my review!!), and am stunned and amazed and in awe of your genius at how you wove in these little elements throughout the whole series rather on-the-sly like, and then at the end they all came together in jaw-dropping brilliance. 

So I wanted to know if some of them kind of poked their heads out in the last book and waved their arms and said, "Hey, don't forget about me!" or if you knew all along that they were important. :D
Thank you so much for the kind words! And yes, I did have most everything planned out pretty early. The details came later, but the general tangle of relationships and meta plot was there in essence almost from the start and cemented by the time I finished Spirit Eater.

This isn't to say a lot of plot threads didn't suddenly pop up and scream "YOU FORGOT ME!" all through the series (Oh god, they did) but because of my publication schedule (the first three books came out in three months at the end of 2010) I was able to go back and plant seeds in the first two books while I finished the third. This was PRICELESS. Without the ability to go back and put fix things like I did, the series wouldn't have been nearly as complex.

Even though I've written 6 books since I finished Spirit's End, I consider pulling off the end of the Eli series as the highest achievement as a writer to date. I've never wanted anything to work as much as that final book, and the fact that you and others think it does makes me want to sing for joy. Part of me is terrified I'll never be able to pull off a balancing act ike this again (the Eli series was its own breed of magical unicorn for me in a lot of ways), but then, at the time, I didn't think I'd ever make Eli work either. Just goes to show you never know what you can do unless you reach for it.
BGI think you said you were planning to write about antagonists. I'm interested in reading what you have to say about that.
I still intend to do a big post about bad guys (and not so bad guys) in the future, so I'm going to hold off on getting into this too deep. The basic gist, though, is that the villain is the other half of your story. The heroes drive the story, but the antagonist drives the conflict. Boring villains make for boring books, but since your villains don't get nearly as much page time as the MCs, making them interesting or even sympathetic requires some pretty clever writing.

One of my favorite sayings is "every villain is the hero of their own story." This was why I softened Benehime instead of making her just plain crazy evil. In her mind, she was the victim and she deserved freedom and happiness, and really, she did, she just went about it all wrong. Methodology is often the only thing keeping a villain from being a hero. The ends don't justify the means.

For example, in my new series, one of the antagonists is working toward an unarguably greater good. If circumstances were different, he would be one of the heroes, but he isn't, because to get to that greater good he ruthlessly stepped on others and caused enormous suffering. This was a line I drew. I could have easily justified his unsavory actions to the reader just like the character did in his own mind. But I didn't, because I was trying to make a point.

These are the sort of things you can do as an artist when you start really digging into and using your villain role. There is such a huge breadth of moral complexity and depth in the way we frame who is a protagonist vs. who is an antagonist. Everyone can hate a cackling evil villain. It's easy, nothing is challenged  But when your antagonist is a reasonably good person does bad things in pursuit of a greater end, or who was forced to do bad things by terrible circumstance, then the reader has to think. You're forcing them to use their own moral judgement along with your protagonist to figure out what really is the right thing to do, and that right there is where the book hooks in deep.

So there's a teaser! I'll be doing a much more thought out and in depth post on this in the weeks to come.

WyndesWhy do authors make their blogs hard to read by putting white text on a black background? I know that sounds facetious, but it seriously is a question that I'd love the answer to. I get why designers do it -- hey, it looks cool -- but it impairs readability dramatically, making it harder for every person with astigmatism (50% of the population!) to read the words. It seems like such a strange choice for the people who should care about the words first. I write this as someone who is seriously considering changing a title because I can't find a capital "C" that I like, so it's not like I don't understand putting design first. I just don't get why so many writers do it.
I'm afraid the short answer to this is: I like it. My eyes are very sensitive to light and I find reading white text on a black screen much easier than dealing with a glaring white or patterned background. That said, as an author who was a graphic designer and has an astigmatism, I'm deeply sympathetic to your plight. If it really bothers you, my suggestion would be read the blogs that give you trouble on an RSS reader (there's a link to my feed on the sidebar marked FEED ME RAWR!) where you have complete control over the color scheme. I personally like Google Reader, but there are many lovely free readers to choose from. Sorry for the eye pain!

And that's it for today! Again, thank you for the amazing questions, y'all really saved my blogging bacon! I'll be getting to the rest next week. Until then, if you have a question you'd like to add to the pot, please feel free to leave it on the original post.

<3 Rachel


BG said...

Thank you so much for taking your time to answer my question. I really enjoyed reading it. You're right, I had already realised people don't want 100% evil enemies anymore, they want someone they can relate to in some ways. Black and white is so last century. Take the last James Bond movie, comparing to older ones, for an example.

And that was only a teaser. If the teaser was that interesting, I cannot wait for the big post!

Happy Holidays!

Sarah Wynde said...

I do use RSS but I use the Google Next button so that people who run ads can get the page click count.

However, I got curious about the science -- ie, what's going on with our eyes if one person with astigmatism can say that bright is bad while most say that white-on-black is bad? Alas, I couldn't find out. It might have something to do with the type of astigmatism, and the deformation of the eyes.

Along the way, though, I found a handy little toolbar button that switches your color scheme on this page.

I'm glad I asked the question and thanks for answering it!

Paul Weimer said...

Thank you for answering my question.

I am learning that I am reading more and more critically. It IS hard to turn those instincts off, even if mine are nowhere near as developed as yours yet.

Rachel Aaron said...

Awww, you guys are best!

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