Monday, March 27, 2006

Interview with S. C. Viola Author of DAUGHTER OF THE MOON

Q.) There are reasons authors choose to write in a certain genre. For you,
what is there about fantasy fiction?

A.) I've always lived in my imagination. When I and my sisters and three girl
cousins were little, members of the family read copiously to us from fairy tale
books that I believe were part of a French collection -- The Gray Fairy Tale Book,
the Violet Fairy Tale Book etc. -- that probably helped to nurture a love of the
otherwordly, the magical and heroic, tales set in an imaginary time and place. I
don't think I could write very convincingly about the mundane or prosaic, the gritty,
slice-of-life contemporary scene. My reading, however, is wide enough to cover all
kinds of literature.

Q.) "Daughter of the Moon" is a huge, far-ranging novel in its scope.
There is a totality of elements besides the strictly fantasmal: romance, a descriptive
historical content, if only created by the author, a hint of what passes for metaphysics
and philosophical insight. Your imagination cannot have been the only fertile
ground for inspiration. What special research did you do to bring all the elements

A.) The first area of research for the author is what we all can draw on: experience,
the ability to create a believable story. The basis of any good plot should be,
first of all, the characters involved, their conflicts and their solutions to
their problems. The writer of fantasy, as with every genre, tackles the challenges
of the human condition within the special conventions of the literature. After
that, the sky's the limit. You become God and make up your own world. Of course
you sometimes need to take models from the real world. For instance, among the
people we meet in "Daughter of the Moon" is a barbaric warrior race.
I wasn't all that versed in pre-industrial waponry and sword play, so I had some
reading to do. To impart the proper cultural atmosphere, I borrowed, sparingly,
from elements of the Northern European Iron Age, among others. History long removed
from our memory is a treasure trove of information that can be adapted to the
mythos of a faux-world. To the realism you then add the fantastic; the princess,
the sorcerer, the hero, a dragon, or whatever the devises of the plot, with some
expectation that it will ring true.

Q.) You say the sky is the limit when it comes to writing fantasy and imply that
the need for research is minimal. Does that make fantasy fiction any easier to
write than fiction that has to hew strictly to the known facts?

A.) You would think so, but far from it. You're trying to bring to life something
that doesn't exist. If you're writing a crime novel, you probably need to mention
only once that Detective Stark is an experienced, street-smart professional in
his mid-forties, steely-nerved and inured to the more unpalatable aspects of his
job. He reports for work to a crumbling brick building in one of the seedier presincts
on the East Side, where life is raw. Or maybe he's luckier and has a nice office
in a modern chrome and glass building only two blocks from down-town City Hall.
You don't have to say much beyond that because we're so familiar with detectives
operating in their special millieu, if for no other reason than we read the papers,
have access to zillions of books and a high concentrate of movies and TV on the
subject. Our heads are filled with images of detectives and the police stations
that if only peripherally are part of our everyday lives.

By and large, the author of fantasy is starting from scratch. How do you create
a whole new imaginary world without being too heavy-handed with endless descriptive
narrative? Of course, with fantasy, descriptive narrative is essential, but you
should rely as much on dialogue and action. You should strive to see the fantasy
world through the eyes of the characters. Their speech and actions can reveal
just as much about them and even give hints as to the type of dress, the habitat
and other components the author introduces to make up a credible world. You have
to keep reinforcing the novelty, the fantasy of your world with just the right
touch of disclosure and revelation so the story doesn't bog down with text book
details, and that isn't easy.

Q.) Was there something you found particularly challenging in writing DOM?

A.) I find writing challenging, period. Small things bugged me. I had trouble
creating a make-believe language translating logically into proper names, place
names, etc.. The characters come from different lands, and they speak different
languages. The sounds and spellings of one tongue should read as distinct from
another. And each should be homogenous within itself. You can't have the hero's
name sounding fairly Scandinavian, say, when he lives in a country or town with
a name that comes across as Asiatic. You want short names for the characters that
are easy to remember and pronounce; no jawbreakers that might even look good in
print but sound ridiculous when you say them. Same with the nammerisms, expressions
and customs of your fantasy people. They will need to be addressed with simplicity
and uniformity. Coming up with this kind of consistency is much harder than it

Q.) Tell us about the creative urge that resulted in "Daughter of the Moon".

A.) For many years, before I actually could sit down to write anything, it had
been taking shape in my mind. The first time I did get in front of the computer,
with Page One staring blankly back at me, I wondered in a panic how one gets the
flood of creative juices flowing. I would guess that a good many writers will
confess that they get a tummy-knotting sensation of helplessness upon contemplation
of The First Stroke of the Pen and Hopefully Away We Go. I've written a number
of short stories and started and never finished more than a few novels, but there
was something urgent about committing DOM to the printed page. I knew it would
be a big job, so I prudently acquired a muse. She is green with webbed feet and
a goofy smile on her amphibian face. Her diaphanous tutu, wings and star-tipped
wand make her a fairy godfrog. She never fails to loosen me up with a chuckle
and a reminder that I shouldn't take the process too seriously. I will say, once
I started, the ideas came, not smoothly and never without disgruntlement over
the unintended plot turns along the way that resulted in a lot of backtracking
and rewrite. Then by some miracle I wound up with a beginning, a middle and an
end to a rather complex story. When you're really into it, the plot can unwind
like a movie in your head. I've even dreamed, sometimes, what's going to happen
next. When I was in sync with the process and not allowing anxiety and impatince
to interfere with the flow, DOM actually wrote itself. Generally, though, for
this writer, the mechanics of writing -- expressing your ideas coherently as you
sit in front of a bright screen on which the words unfold that mock you with what
you feel is pure gibberish -- is tedious and tortuous. But, yes, somehow fun,
too. One derives pleasure from the final product. And surely whatever financial
rewards might be in the offing.

Q.) They say that a book is a revelation of the author. Would you say that the
principal character, The Ata'Lan Princess Illat, is a good reflection of you?

A.) (Laughs.) Seriously, maybe not technically but stereotypically, on some level
or other, all women fancy themselves a beautiful, irresistible if somewhat wayward
young creature a la Scarlett O'Hara, with the inner strength of a stout, independent
female force like Kate Hepburn. To be beset upon by unimaginable difficulties
only signifies that in the end, as the Child of Fortune, you are destined to make
it to the very last page intact.

Q.) Did you draw on any real-life persons when creating Illat's two loves? Or
are they, too, perhaps, essentially facets of you psyche?

A.) Maybe the figments of my wishful thinking! It's fun to create men as women
kind of prefer them. The maternal instinct in every woman appreciates, even in
the strongest men, a little vulnerability they can mother. The he-man Allak's
obvious hunkiness is forgiven because he's all too human with his faults and foibles
and the aura of personal tragedy that surrounds him. The Princess' cousin, the
dutifully traditionalist Lord Z'hanh, is all calm outer acceptance. Both seem
in command but have their demons, and of course Illat is guilty of exacerbating
their vulnerability. Not only are the individuals of the piece conflicted within
themselves but equally conflicted with each other, and the Princess' eventful
transit through the lives of the two men causes all the problems.

Q.) Do you think you achieved what you were hoping to, creatively speaking, with

A.) I'm afraid to read it, now that I haven't worked on it for some time. I think
it was H. Rider Haggard, the author of Victorian mystical romances ("She"
-- who must be obeyed), who dogged his publisher on the very day his books were
going to print to make last minute changes. We're never satisfied. We nurture
our first novel as if it were the fruit of our womb. I suspect that with subsequent
books I'll get over it.

Q.) Are we correct in saying that readers of DOM are meant to experience what
is a calculated bit of confusion and let-down at the end of the book?

A.) Exactly. While the book ends logically enough, there are too many unresolved
questions for anyone to be totally satisfied. So I invite those who really want
to know how things ultimately turn out to look for the future release of the sequel,
"The Blood of Kings", which will bring the saga to its conclusion.

Q.) You must have plans for books that take you beyond these two fantasy novels?

A.) Thank you for your faith in my durability. I'm also very fond of historical
romances. Maybe I'll try my hand at a novel set in ancient Rome or Egypt, my spiritual
homeland . . . of course such an endeavor would call for research, wouldn't it?

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