Hello and welcome to Monday! I'll be your host this morning, as we sit down with a hot cup of coffee and talk to Alma Alexander!
Alma Alexander's life so far has prepared her very well for her chosen career. She was born in a country which no longer exists on the maps, has lived and worked in seven countries on four continents (and in cyberspace!), has climbed mountains, dived in coral reefs, flown small planes, swum with dolphins, touched two-thousand-year-old tiles in a gate out of Babylon. She is a novelist, anthologist and short story writer who currently shares her life between the Pacific Northwest of the USA (where she lives with a somewhat dyspeptic writer's cat) and the wonderful fantasy worlds of her own imagination. You can find out more about Alma and her books on her website (www.AlmaAlexander.org), at her Amazon author page (https://amzn.to/2N6xE9u), on Twitter (https://twitter.com/AlmaAlexander), at herFacebook page (https://www.facebook.com/AuthorAlmaAlexander/), or at her Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/AlmaAlexander)
Star Trek or Star Wars?
My mom has said to me that I was “normal… until you went and saw that Star Wars”. It isn’t true of course and normal is overrated anyway, but I have a deep emotional attachment to Star Wars nonetheless (NOT THE SECOND TRILOGY. I found the writing around the Anakin/Padme romance excruciating, and Jar Jar Never Happened. So there. But the latest movies brought me back. “The Last Jedi” is one of the best movies in the series. It shows EMOTIONAL GROWTH. Fight me.) On the other hand Star Trek has been with me for longer. So I am going to grin at the devil’s advocate on my shoulder and say, why not both?
Reboots – a great idea or a lack of creativity?
There are SO many wonderful new things out there and there are more all the time. Reboots upon reboots upon reboots show a lack of courage.
A book you’re looking forward to release (by someone else)?
The new Mat Ruff novel, in the Lovecraft Country milieu. I usually preorder anything new by Matt Ruff. On principle. I have done so with this book, too. I can’t wait for more words by this man.
Bonus question: Coffee, tea, or cacao?
People who know me reasonably well are aware of the fact that I have just enough blood in my coffeestream to be counted as human. Does that answer the question? (oh, and when it comes to solid cacao, I like my chocolate rich and dark…)
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I “realized” nothing of the kind. I didn’t WANT to be a writer. I WAS one. It was part of being alive – I had a pulse, I brethed, and I was a writer. It’s always been like that.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Oh, you DID NOT just ask “where do you get your ideas”. I like to tell people that I have an idea tree growing in my back yard and when one is ripe I just go out and pick it. It’s no less of a fairy tale than the famous idea shop in Schenectady or some such place. You’d be surprised how many people half believe in these things…
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
…for which book? Every one is different.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I wrote my first (bad and thoroughly derivative but nonetheless novel-length) novel when I was eleven. My first decent novel when I was fourteen. The first one thankfully does not survive but the second one does and it’s still got good bones to it…
What does your family think of your writing?
Mostly massively supportive but my mother’s comment upon receiving my first hardcover and turning it over in her hands a few times was a bewildered, “It looks just like a real book…”
How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
More than twenty, and no fair asking to pick favourites. It’s like asking a mom to pick her favourite child. That never ends well and there’s usually tears. Shall we just say that there aspects in every individual book I have written which I purely love… but that I don’t play favourites in this context… I DO love hearing from readers which books THEY liked, though.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I treasure every communication I get from my readers. One time a reader literally real-time emailed me as he was in the process of reading something of mine and it was a joy to open my email every morning to find the latest commuinque from him. I’m up for more of that, if anyone wants to play…
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Well… ME. The best version of me I could muster, and the best writer I knew how to be.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
I went looking for Tolkien’s grave in Oxford so that I could lay a flower on it and say thank you. It was a haunting moment.
What is the first book that made you cry?
Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. I wept over the Little Match Girl, and over the (real) Little Mermaid, not the Disneyfied one. These stories taught me compassion.
What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
Two. One is that the author of a book – in trad publishing anyway – is often lucky to get a 10% royalty on that book – and booksellers won’t even stock it if they don’t get hefty (50%) discounts . I know it’s “A business” but it is a business that would not exist without those writers and they deserve a bigger slice of the pie than they are getting. And the other is the practice of returns. No other industry has a clause where you can simply “return” books – and it’s a practice that is heavily weighted against indies and small presses who do not have large warehouses to store stock. How about booksellers order a small number of copies, SELL them, and then order more when they need them, rather than making bets on saleability and then expecting everyone else down the chain to pay for the cost of those bets? No book should be “returnable” – you wouldn’t “return” a pair of shoes after you’ve bought them, or put a “return” clause in a contract with a plumber or an electrician. Why should the author (at the beginning of this food chain) be the one who ends up suffering the consequences?
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
You cannot possibly know what the reader “wants”. Write the story that needs to be told. The readers to whom it speaks will come… or they won’t. You as the writer literally have no input into this, once you’ve finished writing the book. Writing “to market” has always been a recipe for failure.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Probably. Would they be a GOOD writer? No.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Too many to mention, and they are my valued tribe. We understand one another in a way that nobody outside the industry can ever do, and they are my family. They tell me the truth. They share the highs and the lows and they cheer for the triumphs and commiserate with the tragedies. You need this community.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you building a body of work with connections between each book?
There are some of my books that stand on their own. Others exist in a shared alternate history universe which is still in the process of being created. Watch this space (and if you want an entrance point to my historical fantasy realm, start with “Secrets of Jin Shei”…)
What did you do with your first advance?
I literally don’t remember. But with my BIGGEST advance… I bought my house.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
My grandfather was a published poet who used to read poetry to me when I was literally too young to properly communicate myself – by age 5 I had internalized it so hard that I told him that one of his sonnets didn’t scan properly, and I was right. The power of poetry has never failed to move me, then, and in the years that followed. That adage “sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you” is so bitterly not true – sticks and stones can give you physical scars which heal in time but words can leave wounds which will NEVER close and they are sometimes all the more powerfully inflicted for that they are invisible to the physical eye…
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
No contest. Wolf. Always. Every time. I was fortunate enough to have visited a wolf sanctuary at one time and a wolf KISSED me. I shall always treasure that moment.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Lots. Some have notes that linger on a hard drive and hope that someday they will become a narrative. Others have notebooks full of research (which I would probably have to revisit if I wanted to use it because it was done so long ago…) Still others exist only as a whisper of a dream in the back of my mind, half asleep, and perhaps some day I will kiss them and they will wake into life. But there are a lot of fragments. A LOT of them.
What does literary success look like to you?
I accomplished that on the day that a reader (a friend, I have to add) called me from a different time zone, at midnight my time and what would have been three AM on her end, to scream at me on the phone, “HOW COULD YOU HAVE KILLED HIM?” I created a character so real that she felt the need to protest his death when she got slammed with it in the process of reading the book – and the fact that she was *reading the book at three in the morning* told me everything I needed to know. A large bank balance is nice, and awards are and ego-boo, but reader response like this… THAT is success.
What do you have coming next?
Not sure. Dithering between two projects. A lush historical fantasy novel (which already has a chunk written so it’s just going to be something to dive into and keep writing…) or a dark fairy tale about murder, mayhem, and imaginary friends. If you are reading this interview and have an opinion, please do let me know…