Saturday, March 3, 2012
Wyndano's Cloak is a fairytale for the modern princess, which I read last month and really enjoyed. Author A. R. Silverberry - who is actually a psychologist in his day job - was kind enough to answer a few questions about his novel and his writing process.
If this whets your appetite, you can read my review of Wyndano's Cloak or
buy your own copy now.
First, can you tell me a little about your inspiration for Wyndano's Cloak?
I had a mental picture flash into my mind of what the heroine does in the climax chapter. How we face adversity was a big question I was wrestling with, both on a personal level, as well as professionally as a psychologist. In part, the book is my exploration about one answer to that question.
The two men in Jen's life, her father and her brother Dash, are rendered helpless and immobile quite early in the story. Was it a conscious decision to give all the action to the girls?
It was. Jen and Bit are the heroines, so the action needed to center around them. The father and brother are trapped in an enchantment, and this serves as a catalyst for Bit to act. Jen’s mother also is rendered helpless, and that becomes Jen’s catalyst. By virtue of their age, Jen and Bit are seemingly the least likely to impact the situation. Bit is inconsequential to the villain, Naryfel. And Naryfel only sees Jen as a way to hurt Jen’s mother. She doesn’t see Jen as a threat to her plans. Big mistake!
The story of Wyndano's Cloak takes place across a number of lands, including the 'Plain World' which doesn't have magic. How did you design these different settings, and do you subscribe to the theory that "place is a character"?
When I read The Hobbit and Tolkien’s trilogy, I wished that I lived in the Shire. The rest of Middle Earth I’m not so sure about. You can keep the orcs and giant spiders. But the Shire was cozy, different, and was situated in a world where there was magic. I wanted Aerdem to be like that; to feel so real, that readers believe it exists, and long to go there. The Plain World is dismal and rainy, and the people plod through their lives. Nothing changes. Dreams are lost. Imagination and creativity haven’t sparked for years. You didn’t want to live there! The gray Plain World is a foil for Aerdem, making it all the more intense, the way neutrals make colors pop out in a painting. Both worlds needed to be vivid, though. I had references for most of my scenes. If it wasn’t a place I had visited, I used photographs. Regarding place as character, I think that might depend on the book. In the novel I’m currently working on, place is not only a character, it’s the main antagonist.
Jen feels very strongly protective of her family, though she hasn't known them for very long. Why do you think she feels so responsible for everyone around her?
When Jen was two, her mother hid her in the Plain World and never returned. She grew up as an orphan in a world that did not seem to fit or accept her. Flash forward to the present. Intellectually, Jen knows her mother left her to protect her, but deep down, I think she must have felt abandoned. That wound molded her personality. Having found her family at last, she doesn’t want to experience another loss. Then there’s another layer. Jen’s guardian in the Plain World, Nell, was old and sickly. With that loss issue already festering, and the fear of losing Nell, Jen was ripe to feel responsible for Nell. Right before coming to Aerdem, Nell dies. Now Jen has a double loss. Enter Naryfel, the one person capable of ripping Jen away from the seemingly peaceful, fairy-tale life she finds in Aerdem. She’s going to do everything she can to not let that happen! Jen embodies the archetype of the rightful princess, with a twist. Having come into her kingdom, she finds that she has to fight to stay there. Isn’t life like that? After our identities are solidified, don’t we have to work hard to navigate a complex, ever-changing world?
Despite being very different personalities, Bit and Pet both struggle to make themselves heard at home. Do you think this helps to bring them closer together?
Exactly. They bond because they’re on the same quest: To be heard, to be valuable, to express their talents, to be so much more than anyone expects. Children, by virtue of their age, size, and not having an adult’s power, often feel insignificant, that their thoughts and feelings don’t matter. I hope my tale helps them feel that they are bright, capable people with gifts to offer the world.
There's a lot of back-story hinted at throughout the book. Have you considered writing about Jen's earlier adventures?
The whole tale sits in my dresser drawer, where many first novels dwell. I like the story very much, but it’s got some problems I haven’t ironed out. I might take it up at some point, but there are other stories clamoring to be written. Let’s just say I’m letting it rest! It served it’s purpose. It set up the conflict, characters, and settings for Wyndano's Cloak.
And are you planning a sequel...?
Initially, I wasn’t. I wrapped everything up. After nine years with both books, I was ready to move on to new characters. But a lot of readers have been asking for a sequel. I outlined a plot, introduced some new characters, and got about a third of the way into the first draft. I liked what was coming out, but then something didn’t feel right about where it was headed. Right around that time, another story grabbed me hard, and I’ve been working on that one for about a year. Since setting the sequel aside, I’ve been playing with some ideas about it. For one thing, I think there’s a lot of mileage left in Blue and Pet. Can you imagine the two of them in an adventure together? They’d be at each others throats! Built in conflict.
Do you have children of your own? And if so, are they your biggest fans or your harshest critics? If not, who test-reads your books for you?
Unfortunately, I don’t have children. I imagine they’d be my harshest critics! My wife is my primary test reader, and she doesn’t pull her punches, nor does she stroke my ego. We’ve had quite a few arguments over her responses! She worked as a technical writer, so she’s also really good spotting things that are confusing. One of my cousins is a college English professor. She and her daughter, who was fifteen at the time, both marked up an early draft. I also worked with a critique group who saw the first hundred pages or so. I would have stuck with them, but the pace of the critiques was slowing me down. In addition to my wife and cousin, I’ve got a librarian lined up for my next book. By the way, if I had a child, I’d want her to be like Jen: Smart, persistent, courageous, and a big heart.
What's your writing process, and how do you fit your writing in around any other work/family commitments?
In the old days, I used to discover the story as I wrote. I know that approach works for many people, but I found that I had to work very hard to unify all the story elements. These days, I start with the germ of an idea, usually a compelling character or situation. Then I ask myself what metaphor or theme that idea suggests. I keep that theme in mind as I’m constructing the plot and the rest of the characters. After the first draft, I reexamine all the elements to make sure they fit. I use a lot of visual aids. For Wyndano's Cloak, I had the plot mapped out on a long piece of butcher paper that stretched across my wall. Nowadays, I’m using one-inch post its for each scene, and these are placed on the inside of a file folder. It’s great. I can open up the file and see the whole plot at a glance, and I can easily move scenes around or delete them. I make W charts for the main characters, so I can see how each one fits into the whole.
The work and family commitment question is a whole other kettle of fish. I was lucky with Wyndano's Cloak, because I commuted by train. That gave me two-and-a-half hours, five days a week to write. There were a variety of settings to see out the window, and many of these found their way into the book. That business about the squirrel on the blackberry bushes; I actually saw the little fellow running along the vines! I knew it needed to go into the story, but it took me a year to figure out where. It was a twenty-five minute walk from the train to my office; I filled notepads with snippets of dialogue and description. We’ve moved, so I no longer commute by train. What a loss to my writing! Fortunately, my wife is very understanding of my creative work, and I set my own hours as a psychologist. I try and write two hours in the morning. I usually can if I don’t check email or social media!