It’s almost that time of year. The time where you’ll see an increased amount of people at their computers typing furiously on their keyboards–only stopping to check their wordcount. Coffee sales are likely to go up because of all nighters spent writing, hospital bills increased with more reports of carpal tunnel, and the phrase “how many words did YOU write?” will be more commonplace than the phrase “who’d you vote for?”
Yep. National Novel Writing Month is FIFTEEN days away.
Starting November 1 authors all over the world will commit themselves to 30 days of insanity: writing 50,000 words in one of the bleaker months that includes a potential weekend smothered by random, unwanted extended family members.
And to celebrate this coming month, I’ll have a series of interviews, beginning with the oh-so-brilliant CE Murphy (who I wrote about in the last blog.)
So grab some popcorn, learn some tips from Catie, and then get plotting. You’ve only got 15 days till you start writing your novel, so a little plot will go a long way. Or at least a character. It never hurts. 🙂
If the Shoe Fits the Shaman: An Interview with CE Murphy
By: Stephanie Novak
1. Thus far I’ve only read Urban Shaman (and your short story online, Them Shoes–which by the way, gave me new insight to Buffy’s musical episode), but just that was enough to discover that you have an amazing ability to create a character and live the character in your prose. You write mainly in first person, which–as I know from experience–can be hard. How do you develop your character’s voices, especially from the first person p.o.v.? How do you drop your ego and slip into, say, Joanne’s?
Good grief. If that’s all you’ve read, at the very least go to my website, and check out the short stories and whatnot that I’ve posted there recently. There are around a dozen of them now, including a Walker Papers short story. 🙂
(Bahaha. Go me, for providing insight to Once More, With Feeling!)
Aaah, right. Okay. The truth is, Joanne sounds a great deal like me. She’s extremely easy to write, as far as voice is concerned. Sh’s got all kinds of *issues* I don’t, but mostly her voice and mine are extremely similar. In other words, I cheated.
However: that means I’m out the easy option for anything else I ever write in my entire life, because URBAN SHAMAN was my first published novel, and having a voice so similar to my own real life natural voice means I cannot ever relax and let myself use that voice again for another character. So, because you’ve mentioned it, let me talk a little about the character in “Them Shoes” (which is here; go ahead, go read it; we’ll wait for you to come back.), who is also a first-person protagonist.
Starting that story, I knew I wanted to write a riff on the Red Shoes fairy tale, which is dark and gruesome and awful. I actually had no intention of writing in first person, because I *am* distrusting of my ability to continue writing new first person points of view without stumbling over my own work. At the same time, though, I find first person to be a good way to get into a character’s mind, even if I end up switching to third person later (which I’ve done).
For “Them Shoes” I wanted a character who was in over her head from the beginning. I wanted to be able to use language that was both simple and sensual, and I wanted it to sound as though it was being related by one person to another. Setting a story in the American south, in an indistinct era, seemed like a way to achieve all of that, and automatically gave me a certain kind of voice to use: the ends of words became soft, grammar followed a consistent, but different set of rules from standard English–these are the kinds of things that can give you a lot of mileage in developing a voice for a story.
2. In a panel at the July ComicCon in San Diego, you were asked about “strong female characters.” I’d just like to pursue this question a little further and ask you to elaborate on some of the “strong female characters” in your own life that has helped shaped you and your writing.
Well, I think the first and most obvious person is my mom, who is just an insanely solid and cool person. Let me put it to you this way: when I was in high school, if friends came over to visit and I wasn’t home, they’d only stay for a couple of hours to hang out with my parents. My mom’s a choreographer and a costumer, is wonderfully sensible and extremely silly, and when you have someone like that in your life as your role model for what it is to be an adult female, you just kind of naturally assume that’s what it is to be a woman: strong, talented, inventive, intelligent. Why on earth wouldn’t I write women like that, if that’s what women are?
I do tend to write female leads, but I’d rather like to think that my characters, whether men or women, are all strong people (not necessarily good, not necessarily right, but strong in personality and in development). People tend to remark on strong female characters, as though they’re this sudden new development. They’re not–from Mary Magedelene to Eleanor of Aquitaine to Elizabeth I to Marie Curie to Hillary Clinton, they’ve always been around–but maybe they’re starting to get a bit more even-handed air time.
3. How did you get into shamanism as a book theme?
*laughs* Oh good, an easy one. When I wrote URBAN SHAMAN, there were basically two urban fantasy novelists on the scene: Laurell K. Hamilton with the Anita Blake books, and Jim Butcher with the Dresden Files. Anita’s a necromancer and Harry Dresden’s a wizard. I said to myself, “Ok, so I don’t want to do either of those. What else would be interesting? Ooh, I know! A shaman!”
4. From both the novel Urban Shaman and your essay on shamanism, it’s clear you did a lot of research. How much time do you devote to researching a novel? How do you fit everything you’ve researched into a fictional setting?
Oh, jeez. It depends. I have a dozen or more books on shamanism sitting right next to me, and next to those are half a dozen books on great queens and the Elizabethan era, which were research for my Inheritors’ Cycle series. Shamanism was something almost entirely new to me, so I read a *lot*. The Elizabethan era has been something I’ve loved since I was a kid, so I had a lot of residual knowledge to draw from there.
The thing is, though, virtually none of it gets “fit in” to a fictional setting. For the Walker Papers, I read all of these books and essentially took what I’d learned, shaped it into something that seemed *reasonably* consistent across all the books I’d read, and just ran with that. I use the occasional detail from research material, but mostly it just becomes this gestalt from which to pull data from. As a writer you want your research to be as invisible as possible.
5. It would be an understatement to say that life is anything but quirky. There are always those places/people/moments that stand out and are committed to memory–and when the memory is one of an author, it’ll unquestionably end up in print. What are some of those things that you’ve seen/people you’ve met/moments you’ve experienced that you have yet to commit to paper (“paper” not including journals/diaries/etc 🙂
*laughs* The Chinaman story.
Ted (my husband) and I were out to dinner one night, and behind us was a group of men, who had the following conversation:
“So I’m hanging out with Rich and the Chinaman–”
“Yeah, his name’s Johnny, and he’s about six foot five and a white guy, but we call him the Chinaman. What, you don’t know–okay, so about five years ago we’re all out at a pool hall and it’s late and we’re shitfaced and this guy comes in. He’s in his fifties, man, but if you know anything about pool you know who this guy is. He’s a national freaking champion, world class pool player. And Johnny, who can’t see straight, says, “Bet I can beat him in a game of pool.”
“”Yeah,” we all say, “sure you can. Bet you fifty bucks, man, because you haven’t got a Chinaman’s chance.” So Johnny takes the bet, and god damned if he doesn’t go challenge the guy to a game and win. So ever since then, we’ve called him the Chinaman.”
Ted and I sat there through the whole story with our eyes and smiles getting bigger and bigger. We nearly applauded when the guy was done, and someday I’ll get to use that in a story. It’d work best in a movie, I think. Ideally you’d get Paul Newman to play the old pool shark, but, well, he’s dead now. Damn.
6. When you sit down to write–what’s your preferred method? coffeeshop? Music? Library? Caffeine? What makes your space the most creativity-inducing space? (and why? 🙂
I have an office of my own–I’ll include a picture of the last one, since I don’t have a handy photo of this one. I think of it as a grown-up’s playground, all full of bright colors and interesting things. I do have a stereo in the room, but I don’t listen to it while I’m working; I’m one of those (evidently comparatively rare) beasts who needs silence to work in.
I do leave the house and go to cafes or sometimes the library while I’m doing revisions, because revisions put me to sleep. *snxxt*
7. November’s coming up, and that means National Novel Month is around the corner. You’ve mentioned you plan to participate in it this year. Have you participated in this before or will this be your first?
I’ve participated five or six times. I’ve *succeeded* once, the first year I participated, in 2002. I’m afraid I don’t take the rules very seriously, and frequently work on a project that needs completion rather than a brand spanking new novel. That’s what I did last year, and though I think I only got about 37K written that month, it was enough to finish the book, so *spreads hands*
8. Any ideas what your nanowrimo novel will be about? Do you plan on making an outline/synopsis before Nov1 so you have an idea of where you’re going?
Oh, I know exactly what I’m writing. It’s my next book due to my publisher, Del Rey. It’s a paranormal romance titled TRUTHSEEKER (unless they decide to change the title), and it’s about a young woman who knows, instantly and always, if she’s being lied to. She doesn’t know necessarily what the lie *is*, if she’s being lied to, but she knows you’re not telling the truth.
I’ve got a synopsis, as that’s what I sold the book with, and about 15K already written (I told you I don’t take the rules very seriously). The book is projected at 90,000 words, so I’m actually planning to write 75K in November and to finish the whole thing by the stroke of midnight on the 30th. 🙂
9. What is the shortest length of time that you’ve completed an entire novel? How long did you spend revising that particular novel?
35 days, 28 of which were writing days. That, actually, was my first Nano novel, which is about…67,000 words long. (I had to check.) It’s had a couple of revision passes, and needs another one for characterization, but structurally it’s incredibly solid, and always has been.
I’ve written quite a few novels in 6-8 weeks. That’s really the ideal time for me, because I tend to lose interest after that (I want to be done!), and will sometimes go away for weeks or months before coming back to finish it. The length of time spent revising, actually, has almost nothing to do with how long it took to write the book initially, but most revisions take a couple of weeks.
10. What are some of the hardest lessons to learn on your road to becoming published?
To sit down and write. :p Every day, whether you want to or not. If you’re aiming for publication, then writing is a job. It’s a job that probably doesn’t pay, and will almost certainly never pay *well*, but if you want to get there, you’ve got to write. And that honestly is the hardest part, just getting your butt into the chair and applying pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard, whatever).
I think it’s hard for a lot of writers to learn to trust themselves. I honestly believe the only way to succeed is to write what you love and are passionate about, rather than trying to write to market or to what you think are an editor’s expectations. When I sold URBAN SHAMAN, the publisher said they were looking for traditional fantasy with a strong female protagonist and a strong romantic element. Well, I sent them a contemporary fantasy with a strong female protagonist and virtually no romantic element at all, and they bought it. Trust yourself. There’s not much point in doing this job if you’re not writing what you specifically love.
11. Quicklist: a)Favorite SF/F authors, b)Favorite Authors (in general)
Guy Gavriel Kay, Robert Heinlein, C.S. Friedman, Kim Stanley Robinson, Susan Cooper; Anne Perry, Barbara Hambly (particularly her Janiver mystery series, which is why she’s going under general instead of SF/F), uh…I buy Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera books in hardback, which is how I define “favorite authors”, so I guess Jim goes on that list too. 🙂
a. What’s in your CD player/on your mp3 player that you can’t get enough of?
Um, right now, as I type, the “Impala Mix” is playing–music from the tv show Supernatural. Great 70s and 80s rock.
12. If you could be any fictional character, you would be…..
Methos from Highlander. He’s 5000 years old and will survive at any cost. God, the things he’s seen…! 🙂
13. Buffy v. Xena–who would win? Anita Blake v.Joanne Walker–who would emerge victorious? 😉
…*stares* Wow. I have *no idea* who would win in a Buffy/Xena fight. Damn. I might have to put money on Xena, because she’s about four feet taller and has a sword, whereas Buffy’s usually just got Mr. Pointy. Xena’s reach might win the day.
Honestly, I’m afraid Anita would kick Jo’s ass. Jo’s not so good with the undead. On the other hand, again with the issue of reach: if Jo could just get her hand on top of Anita’s head, Anita’d be all *swiff* *swiff* *swing* *miss* because her arms just wouldn’t be long enough to connect a hit. 🙂
14. Any words of wisdom for all the crazy people ready to take on the nanowrimo challenge?
Yeah: if you have time to watch TV, you have time to write (a bit of wisdom I’ve stolen from my friend Tamara Siler Jones. If you want to succeed, you’ve got to sit down and write. Writing 18,000 words in the first 24 hours is great, but it’s utterly useless if you don’t write anything else for the next 696 hours.
I know part of the NNWM creed is that it’s okay to write crap, and it is, in fact, okay to write terrible first drafts. But give writing something good your best shot, too. One of my favorite quotes ever is from Neil Gaiman: “I’ve learned over the years that everything is more or less the same amount of work, so you may as well try and do something really cool.”
So go try to do something cool. 🙂
15. How long have you been bouncing the idea of writing a comic around? (let it be known that this question necessarily demands a summary of said comic in additon to the ‘how long’ question ;-)and how did it go from an “I want to do this” to a real-live project?
Ah, jeez. Um. Since I was a kid, apparently, because I used to draw ElfQuest pages of my own, and I’ve actively wanted to write a superhero comic since the mid-90s or so. The real conscious imperative came about five and a half years ago when Marvel announced it was opening a creator-owned line. That was the first time I ever sat down and studied comic script formatting and wrote an actual script. Marvel gave up on their idea, but I didn’t give up on mine.
The result, five and a half years later, is “Take A Chance”, a superhero comic about a woman without powers who–after her son’s murder–takes it on herself to try to clean up the streets and protect other kids.
And you know what? I’m going to totally cheat and take an out, and point you toward a post I made recently on my group blog, Magical Words because I *just* talked about the process of getting Chance from an idea to an actual comic and I don’t want to type it all out again. 🙂
16. When is “Take a Chance” expected to come out? and in five, ok, seven words or less, define why it will be awesome 🙂
“Out. For. A. Walk. *Bi–*”
Oh wait. That wasn’t what you were looking for, was it. 🙂 Chance debuts in December 2008 from Dabel Brothers Publishing and is awesome because sexy strong leather-clad women kick ass.
(In more words, I think Chance hits the sweet spot between the ordinary and the extraordinary: she’s a Batman character in that she has no powers, but she’s also Joe Ordinary in that she hasn’t got billions to spend on wonderful toys. It’s a superhero comic, so it’s not “real”–but it’s on that edge where we dream we could be, if we had the nerve.)
Check out more CE Murphy at her website and go buy some of her books. You’ll have fun with Joanne.
For your viewing pleasure, I’m including a section at the San Diego ComicCon featuring CE Murphy and a few other authors. Watch and enjoy. ’tis a brilliant video.