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Thursday, 28 April 2011

Author Interview with Elizabeth C Mock:


Hello Elizabeth. Please tell us little about yourself.

      Whew. Starting with the rough stuff first. So here goes. I'm a twenty-nine year old who loves stories and ideas and people. In college, I studied philosophy and writing in an attempt to organize the chaos that is my mind and to force my thoughts into comprehensible communication. I've spent the past seven years teaching high school and I love it. I love teaching and I love teenagers. They're curious and hilarious and they question everything.
      I self-published my debut novel, Shatter (The Children of Man, #1), in May 2010. I have, however, been writing since I was seven years old when I informed my mom that I was going to be a writer. She never laughed at me, despite the fact that it would take me two more years to actually learn to read. But that's another story.
      My hometown is the former steel city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I now live in Cincinnati, Ohio, but my heart lives out west in the mountains. Other than voracious reading and writing, I love to travel, camp, rock climb, and obsess over Doctor Who.

I know you write fantasy; would you give us some insight into Shatter (The Children of Man, #1) in a few sentences.

      Shatter and The Children of Man series is about several things. It's about the choices people make and the consequences of those choices. It's about friendship and relationships and that while they make life so much more complicated, they also make it that much more amazing. Essentially, however, it's a story about redemption both for the world and the individual characters. Oh, and there's magic, lots of magic.

How did you come to write this particular book?

      This book started one evening after rock climbing when my roommate and I started chatting about physics and philosophy over some fast food. We were discussing the understanding of light and dark within physics and how they correlate to conceptions of good and evil. Then we just started bouncing ideas back and forth. From that discussion, the idea of a magic system based on fractured white light was born. Later that night I had this image in my mind of Faela standing in a forest during that golden moment right after dawn being confronted by two men. She was clearly on the run, but I did not yet know why. That was seven years ago.
      I'm really drawn to stories that deal with heroes who don't always make the right choice and have sordid pasts. I love looking at individual relationships and group dynamics and how our choices affect not only ourselves, but also those connected to us. While the story started with an idea, I don't think any novel worth reading should be esoteric. If there isn't a good story and intriguing characters, what's the point? For me this story is about the personal tragedies my characters have experienced (and continue to experience) and the choices they make in the wake of those tragedies. Who will they choose to be? And what affect will those choices have not only on them, but also the world?

If you have a favourite character in your novel, why that particular one?

      Wow, that feels like asking who my favourite child is or which of my students do I like best. I would say I enjoy each of my characters for very different reasons. Faela and Kade are probably the most satisfying to write, but the most difficult. Those two are my most jaded and vulnerable characters. They've both had hard lives and their scar tissue is pretty darn thick. Peeling back those layers is gratifying.
      Sheridan, Jair, and Mireya are the most fun to write. I have a hard time taking life too seriously. Because when I'm faced with life's darkness, I'm either going to laugh or cry. I choose to see the absurdity and laugh and it shows in those three. Caleb and Talise are the easiest to write. Their motivations are so strong and obvious that their scenes just flow. And characters that are really shady and untrustworthy, like Lucien, are just plain fun, especially writing Lucien in the second book, Render.

Where and when is your novel set and why did you make these specific choices?

      My novel is an "other world" fantasy. It has no connection to the real world. It is a world with magic, but it is also a world that has progressed technologically. This isn't a sword and sorcery epic fantasy, but it is epic fantasy. There are a couple of reasons for this.
      First, my magic doesn't prohibit mechanical things from functioning.  Second, I know many engineers and I just cannot imagine being able to stop someone wired that way from inventing and tinkering. So, my world has around a 19th century level of technology - trains, steam engines, watches, ect.
      My world has a long and painful history and there isn't much undiscovered land left. I wanted an established world to tell this story. A world with its own back-story and scars, just like my characters.

Where can people buy your book?

      Shatter is available on all e-book formats (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Sony, Diesel, iBooks, smashwords) and it is also available to purchase the paperback pretty much anywhere online (Joseph-Beth, B&N, Amazon, Powell's, ect.). My blog has a storefront with links to all these sellers: http://ecmock.blogspot.com/p/book-trailer.html.

What qualities do you think a writer needs to be successful?

      Many. There are many qualities a writer needs to succeed. With fiction it isn't enough to have a story to tell and the ability to tell it well. Though those both are extremely important. To succeed, I would say that all writers need a desire to always improve. Good enough is never enough.
      Writers also should to love to read. Being widely read is the building block of good writing. It's the fuel of good writing.
      Also, I cannot stress enough how important it is to have trusted critique partners who will tell you when you wrote a sentence that just offended the entire English language or when you've left a plot thread dangling that could end up strangling your heroes.
      On the pragmatic end, writers also need to have a pretty thick skin. You can't write a novel that everyone will love. Everyone's looking for something different in a story. Rejection comes with the territory. Even when other people make it personal, don't take it personally. Stay professional and stay classy.

What’s your working method?

      First, I come up with a basic, sketchy outline. When I draft, I just get out the words. I don't care about using the same word twenty times in ten sentences. I only need to get the words on paper. Drafting is the most exhausting portion of the process for me.
      My outlines aren't super detailed. I know that the characters are in this particular place and I need to hit these plot, character, and world building goals by the end of a given scene and I just let my characters loose. Sometimes this creates scenes that will never see the light of day and sometimes it takes me to places that are just pure gold which surprise me in a middle of the scene and will foundationally alter that aforementioned outline.
      Once I get the first draft done, the real fun begins. I print out the entire monstrosity and edit for pacing and narrative flow. And I forcibly restrain the primal urge to line edit. As Scott Westerfeld so brilliantly said, "[If you accept that] you're eviscerating first, fixing later, you'll go a long way toward meaningful editing, as opposed to rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg." This quote is affixed to my computer screen. It is my mantra. After I make those changes and rewrites, which were extensive for Shatter, I send it off to my editors. Once I get their notes, I do more rewrites.
      At this point, I print it again. Now I finally get to do line edits and make it sound all pretty and beat my awkward phrasing and sentences into some semblance of coherent communication. Then back it goes to my editors. I make more changes and off it goes to my beta readers for their reactions. Once I get their notes, I make minor tweaks.
      Then the dreaded copy edits. This time I'm paying for this part to be done. My editors and I have looked at this manuscript so many times at this point that there is just no way humanly possible for us to catch the copy errors. The MS has usually gone through anywhere from five to nine edits.

What single biggest mistake is made by beginner writers?

      Not having a trustworthy critique partner who will be brutally honest with you and I do mean brutally. It really is invaluable. It's hard to look at your novel with fresh eyes; you need someone else's perspective, someone who won't coddle and pet your ego.

As a writer of fantasy, to what extent do you think genre is useful in the publishing world?

      I'm unsure that it's necessarily useful to publishing, but I do think that it's an important genre that allows the author to transport their audience to another world where the author defines the rules. You have the ability to really examine important universal truths within fantasy. Also, magic and dragons and elves are cool.

Many authors think marketing is a chore. What's your opinion on this issue and how do you deal with it?

      I've honestly done very little active marketing for Shatter. I have established my presence in a lot of social networking venues like my blog, the series website, Facebook, Twitter, goodreads.com, Shelfari, ect. I did create a book trailer. I also did a paperback giveaway of Shatter on goodreads.com when it was first released.
      Probably the best thing I did for marketing was that I offered Shatter for free as an e-book. The loss leader marketing strategy has been very successful for getting my name out there and my story in the hands of readers. It's a big risk to try a new author, especially one that is indie. So, I remove the monetary risk and readers only risk their time on my story and me.

How do you know where to begin a given story?

      Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I don't find the beginning until I'm in the middle or the end. Sometimes at the end I realize the beginning I have no longer fits. In college, whenever I had to write a paper or a story, I would sit at the computer and start writing about whatever came into my head until I found my way to what I was supposed to actually be discussing.
      Also, I'm a big fan of starting a story in media res or in the middle of things. I know some readers disliked that I did this with Shatter, but I like unravelling a good mystery and putting the pieces together. And this story really began when Faela, Kade, and Jair all meet, not when they each made their individual mistakes.

What sort of displacement activities keep you from writing?

      Social networking is my Achilles heel. It eats a lot of my time. Also, watching random television can suck me in. I turn on the TV in the background and all of a sudden I've just watched three episodes of Top Chef or Top Gear. Apparently, I have a weakness for shows with the word "top" in the title.

What support do you receive from family and friends, or a writing group?

      I couldn't write without the amazing support I receive from my friends and family. They take away anything flammable when I have the urge to burn everything I've ever written and crack the whip to get me working again and commiserate with me when I'm frustrated and let me bounce snarled plot lines off them until they're magically untangled. Without my support structure, I could never write something as complex as a novel.

How long does it normally take you to write a novel?

      First draft probably takes about three to four months of actual writing when all is said and done, but for Shatter that was scattered over six years and for Render it's been a little over a year. With my day job, it's sometimes nearly impossible to find the time to write consistently. Over my spring break, I was about to draft over 50,000 words in ten days. The editing process takes about another three to four months.

If there’s a single aspect to writing you find really frustrating, what is it?

      Writing a first draft is like ripping my soul out and attempting to smear it on paper in order to replicate something real. I've been known to describe first drafts as similar to being in an abusive relationship. Once after a particularly gruelling session, I claimed that the English language had just thrown me down the stairs. I certainly did feel bruised and battered. It really can be a job. But I love it.

Is there a particular aspect of writing that you really enjoy?

      I love creating new characters and worlds and figuring out their stories. I also really, really enjoy line editing, inappropriately so. I just love taking awkward language and moulding it into something beautiful or at least something that's not horrifyingly embarrassing.

Do you believe writing to be a natural gift or an acquired skill?

      Both. I think that some have a predisposition to writing, but without acquiring the skills and honing the craft, a writer will remain mediocre. I also think that anyone can be taught to write. He or she might not be the next Shakespeare, but anyone can be taught to communicate clearly and effectively.

What are you writing now?

      I'm finishing up Render, the second book in The Children of Man series and the follow up to Shatter. It picks up a week after the events in Shatter.

Do you have a website or blog that readers can visit?

My personal blog is Color Beyond Shade (http://ecmock.blogspot.com/) and the series website is The Children of Man Series Official Site (http://thechildrenofman.blogspot.com/). Please stop by both!

Given unlimited resources, where would you do your writing?

      I would write in Seattle, Washington in the Pacific Northwest of the US or Nafplio, Greece - definitely somewhere with big windows in either place. Both are in the mountains and both are near water. I grew up visiting the western US every summer. My heart belongs to the mountains.

Where do you actually write?

      I actually write either in the corner of my apartment staring at Scrivener or at various Paneras around Cincinnati. I do best when there are few distractions and no Internet to be found.

I recently reviewed Elizabeth's novel on this blog. You'll find the review here: http://stuartaken.blogspot.com/2011/04/shatter-children-of-man-by-elizabeth-c.html

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