Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Author Interview: Caligula42

1. What was it about the Twilight Fandom that made you want to write fanfiction for it?

I like the idea of the epic love story. I’ve always been a romantic at heart, and I am fascinated by the idea of two people surpassing all odds to be together – especially in the context of the sort of “forbidden love” plotline that is explored within the Twilight series. The longing and passion develops within that type of story never fails to give me the chills. But, with that said, I still have some niggling (personal) problems with both the character portrayals in Meyer’s series, as well as how some of their personal issues are resolved. I’m not going to get up on a soapbox here, but rather, I’ll just say that an author’s narrative is a great venue to explore a multitude of critiques. Thus I began my story, with the idea that I would give my chance to flesh out some of the ideas that I found enjoyable, as well as those areas that I took issue with.

2. Is writing a new venture for you and how are you finding your way through the process?

My interest in writing actually dates back to one of the first Fantasy-slash-Science Fiction novels I ever read: Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown. I was about twelve years old at the time, and I still remember how absolutely amazed I was at the idea of being able to create an absolutely new and believable world within the pages of a book. I spent the better part of a year after that writing my own version of the story – complete with illustrations. Eventually I got bored with my pre-adolescent foray into fiction, and went back to being a visual artist; something that I still considered myself to be first and foremost.
But . . . I kept reading – voraciously – along with the painting and the pottery and the sculpture that I had thrown myself into. Dickens and Eliot became my nighttime companions, and I found myself muttering lines from “J. Alfred Prufrock” every time I saw a sunset, or looked at pictures of mermaids, and, of course, I read Twilight. And this summer, while making the daily hour long drive out to a traditional style wood fire kiln during a week long ceramic workshop, I turned on my trusty iPod to that fateful Mark Lanegan song “The Man in the Long Black Coat,” and the idea for Irritable Grizzly Adams literally seemed to fall out of my head. The rest, if you will forgive the cliché, is history.
Ironically, as a visual artist, I am beginning to realize that I use words in the same way: I play with their rhythm and meaning, as well as their inherent imagery, to create sounds and shapes on the page, as well as within the reader’s mind. I find that if I think of my narrative as fitting within this construct, it becomes a sort of verbal painting, and thus it is all the more enjoyable.

3. What made you choose the genre you write in versus the others?

The alternative universe genre is most appealing to me because I do enjoy including elements of the supernatural. It allows, at least for me, the latitude to work within the parameters of an alternate reality without creating a whole new story. In essence, it gives me the chance to test drive my own fledgling skills using the existing characters and themes as a sort of writer’s prompt. While creating my own story is something that I ultimately hope to do, admittedly it is an undertaking that I find rather intimidating.
As far as the crafting of this story goes, the Edward Leaves and Never Comes Back plotline specifically called to me. I’m a big sucker for the tearjerker approach to storytelling (I am, after all, a Dickens fanatic, and he is the King Of All That Is Melodrama), and I like nothing better than swaddling myself in blankets, eating a bowl of ice cream and weeping with a good book. But I have to clarify – I am a romantic at heart, and the stories I find most satisfying are those that have the romantically inclined couple overcome tremendous obstacles to be together. It was with this in mind that I developed my own story. While I enjoyed the premise of New Moon, I felt that some of it fell short in terms of fulfilling its potential for providing character growth.

4. What do you do to avoid writer's block? If it's unavoidable, what do you do to surpass it?

I find that the best way for me to avoid writer’s block is to keep my story broken up into chapters, and to consider each chapter as its own specific prompt. Thus I ensure that I am only writing on one specific idea or action at a time, with a specific ending in mind. I do my best to keep each chapter as a stand-alone piece – that is, that it either concludes an issue, or, if it is an absolute cliffhanger, it at least leaves me with the momentum to carry forward into the next chapter.
If all else fails, I find that, for me, the best way to avoid writer’s block is to keep writing. Even if I look at what I have and think, “Gah, this is utter filth,” I know that if I keep plugging along, some gem is eventually going to fall out. This does mean that sometimes I have to edit fairly ruthlessly towards the end, but it at least keeps the story moving in my head. With that being said, I also try to save particular scenes that I do have blocked out in my head to use as a reward – that is, I don’t allow myself to write them until I have the areas I am having difficulty with resolved.
If I’m really stuck, I’ll read something else to clear my head. Or sleep on it. Unfortunately, since I have begun student teaching, I often find I that I am too tired to dig up the energy to get into a particular character or scene, so it’s better if I give it a rest, rather than mutilate what I’ve got with the apathy that is all too ready to accompany exhaustion.

5. Do you find that any certain characters are more difficult to write than others?

When I first started writing this story, Edward was probably the hardest character for me to write. I found it extremely difficult to write about someone so full of self-recrimination and self-loathing without it either coming off as horribly whiny, or utterly disturbed. That is the reason why I eventually came up with the extra twist for the reason that he gave the rest of the Cullen family for their sudden departure from Forks. Of course, this made him a lying bastard as well, but, once I did that, the disgust and contempt that Edward had for him self became much easier for me to write palatably, and it also made his internal conflict something I could actually find myself sympathizing with.

6. How do you avoid "MarySueism" when creating an original character?

In all of my years of reading and critical writing, I had never encountered the term “Mary Sue” in reference to literature until I ventured into the Twilight fandom. I have to thank my little sister for that introduction, as she was the one who ushered my rather aged self into the digital age. Specifically, she browbeat me into getting onto a few specific LiveJournal communities that had devoted themselves to the series, and there the “Mary Sue” term was bandied about quite a bit.
I have never been a fan of weak characters, and thus I set out to specifically avoid that pitfall when I crafted this story. Bella and Edward are flawed, to be sure, but they each have the opportunity to transcend their difficulties. In Bella’s case, she perseveres in the face of heartbreak by making her life over, and learning to stand up for the woman she has become. As for Edward . . . well. I give Edward a little more leeway as I think he never really got the chance to be a boy, or to act out in all the silly testosterone poisoned ways that are inherent to teenage males. He may come off as rather weak at this point, but he is a character that truly needs to be broken down to his smallest elements in order to be built up as a man. Thus he may seem pathetic and whiny now, but that issue is something that should resolve itself in the long run.

7. What do you like to see in a review?

Constructive criticism. Isn’t it sad that I have to specify? I recently got trolled pretty heavily via a nasty review, which was followed by a rather plaintive PM that stated “you asked for my opinion!” Yes, that is true, but while I may joke that I shamelessly beg for validation (and being the vain and selfish creature that I am, I do rather crave it) I view the forum of fanfiction first and foremost as a means for thoughtful and helpful critique. Nobody is perfect, and nobody is going to be happy with every story, but I find it sad that I must specify for people not to be rude about it.
But I digress. Some of the best reviews I have had were those where the respondent was kind enough to take the time to illuminate parts of the story they liked, but also to highlight areas that were problematic, and then offer solutions. While one could argue that this is the function of a beta (to which I heartily agree), I find that, as a fledgling writer, you can never have too many cooks in the kitchen. I love the dialogues that these reviews have started, both in terms of criticism, and also in differing viewpoints in regard to themes and imagery that I am developing.

8. What made you pick your pen name?

While I have a morbid fascination with some of the more outrageous historical figures (the Borgias, Rasputin, and their ilk) I chose my pen name as a joke, and also to help me remind myself that this whole writing experience should be fun, and not work. Also, I think that I may have permanent Tongue In Cheek Syndrome, and choosing horribly bizarre pen names may be a manifestation of that disease. And, like Caligula, I love horses. Although, perhaps not to his extreme.

9. Tell us the guiltiest pleasure you indulge in ;)

I would list my guiltiest pleasure as a sort of trifecta of indulgences, but never to be attempted or taken at the same time. I like nothing better than to eat a whole Green and Black chocolate bar while sitting under the covers, or to have a nice glass of Patron Silver (or Gold) – neat, thank you – in the same aforementioned location. I also like to drive fast (without the assistance of Patron, mind you), and I just recently discovered through Real Life Experience, that I am very much in love with the new BMW M3. Although, as you all well know, the 1969 Mustang Fastback with the 428 Cobra Jet holds the nearest, and dearest place in my heart. Just don’t tell my husband. I don’t think he’d understand.

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