Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Author Interview: Gondolier

1.You are relatively new to Twilight fandom, what was it about the story or genre that made you want to write fanfiction?

Easy, the vamps are sexy!

Seriously now. I originally started reading Twilight fanfiction because I wanted more from the books. Don’t get me wrong—if I didn’t enjoy them immensely, I wouldn’t be writing in this fandom. However, I felt there were some missed opportunities—in-depth characterizations, the rich history of the vampire world, Edward’s century of experiences, the possibility of living forever—and I wanted to see if fanfic writers were exploring them. The sheer amount of Twilight fic was overwhelming. But then I stumbled across this blog (loff!), and found a faction of talented writers and accomplished readers using Twilight’s popularity as a vehicle to encourage quality creative writing. I wanted to be a part of it. I looked for an author to beta and jumped at the chance when EclipsedbyJacob was on the market. (She has such raw talent for writing unique, suspenseful action sequences; it’s a thrill to beta for her!)
Once I was close to finishing my thesis, I wanted to try my hand again at lighter fiction and Twilight provides the perfect opportunity. I have instant reader feedback, which helps me connect with an audience. And I don’t care what the dissenters say—writing fanfiction is good practice for original fiction.

2. What is your experience writing? Do you have any plans for original work?

I’ve been writing stories almost as long as I’ve been reading. Mysteries, romance, memoir, action, horror, poetry, songwriting, you name it. I never considered it as a profession, however, until three years ago. I’ve been in the Public Relations/Media field since 2002. It was fun, but I wasn’t passionate about it. I planned to go to grad school, but I wanted to study something I could spend the rest of my life doing. It came down to music or creative writing. Creative writing allows me to freelance and make a little money, which would have been more difficult if I’d studied music (I can’t teach, seriously). I left PR for good around Christmas, I’ve just finished my grad degree, and am now a cash-strapped freelance writer living the dream, baby.

Original work? Oh yes, I’ve got a stockpile just waiting for publication. If I’m writing fanfiction, I’m always simultaneously working on original pieces. Right now, my big project is breaking my thesis into self-contained short stories and shopping them around to literary journals and travel magazines. (It’s a coming-of-age memoir about my travels in Israel/Palestine, if anyone wants to publish it, wink.) I’m also writing an original fiction set in Jazz Age Los Angeles and Chicago. It’s darker than HL5 and has an old Hollywood, film noir feel to it.

3. What made you choose AU-All Human as your genre?

The flexibility. As much as I love vampires, I wanted to play with Meyer’s characters without the constraints of her vampire world. That said, I still make a conscientious effort to somehow twist certain aspects of Twilight into my fanfiction. If I don’t do that, it’s not really a fanfiction—I’m just slapping familiar names on characters. For example, Edward’s popular book series about vampires, and the subsequent uproar and movie deal, is obviously a spoof on Twilight. And even though the characters are all-human, they’ve retained some of their quirks and traits, such as Bella’s having developed a love for extreme sports in Edward’s absence.

4. Do you map a story before you start it? What is your process?

You bet. I start by creating a basic story synopsis, primary and secondary conflicts. Next comes research. Then I write a couple of paragraphs about the story’s environment (time period, place). After that, more research. I sketch out my characters—they’re appearance, traits, motivations, etc. Finally, I develop a storyline, timeline, and key scene summaries. And, of course, I research. And with each chapter, I start by creating an outline and then fill in chunks. I very rarely write linearly.

In addition to the above, I have a huge “mystery onion” chart that looks like a target board. The chart contains a dozen clue threads that run from the outer level to the “core”—the heart of the mystery. When I write each chapter, I have to be careful not to outpace another clue thread as I weave them into the story.

5. How long do you plan to make Hydraulic Level 5?

As long as it takes to get to through my plotline. I’m guessing it will be roughly 150k - 200k, but not committing to that.

6.You write a lot about river rafting and other extreme sports. Do you participate in any of these activities? What research do you do?

Yes, some. I love the outdoors, though I’m a horrible skier. Hubby and I live next to a lake and forest trails. Spelunking, biking, camping are hobbies. We also go on an annual whitewater rafting trip with our siblings and their S.O.s. I have been caught in a hydraulic, swamped by rapids, and even bungeed a car tire to a cataraft as prime river booty. (I’m the second from the left in the photo).

I’m a big advocate for writing what I know—this doesn’t make me a Mary Sue, it makes me informed.

If I don’t know, I research so I do know. It brings my story to a higher level of richness and believability. I research geographic setting since I’ve never been to the Olympic Peninsula. I’ve read up on the effects of divorce, skydiving, paparazzi, auto-body shops, music groups, and eco-sneakers (thanks Emibella). I even watched an hour-long indie documentary on Bumbershoot Music Festival done by a middle-aged hippie who looked like Jerry Garcia, just so I could write the half-page excerpt from Edward’s draft memoir. I’ve researched a ton of other stuff that hasn’t even come into play yet. Of course, too much research could overwhelm my story if I let it. It’s also the best excuse for not actually digging in and writing. Research is meant to enhance, not dominate, fiction.

7. Do you ever suffer from writer's block? What do you do to surpass it?

Writer’s block is tough. I take myself out of a block by getting away from my laptop and examining the bigger picture. Some of my best a-ha moments come while I hike or canoe, drive to and from class, or even just take a shower. Then I can go back to my chapter with renewed perspective.

8. What type of writing do you enjoy most? Dialogue? Action? Humor? Angst? Do you find some types more challenging?

Definitely enjoy all of the above. Cop out, huh?

Suspense scenes are the most enjoyable to write: angst, action, mystery. When I was ten, I wrote a short story about three friends who explore a haunted house and are stalked by a ghost. In the end the ghost’s face melts off to reveal a skull. I proudly showed it to my mother… she replied with something like “Oh Sarie, I can’t believe you wrote this!” I don’t know if she was impressed by the story or terrified by the fact that her sweet, shy little girl would even imagine something like a gruesome melting ghost (it’s her fault for letting me read scary stories instead of The Bobbsey Twins). I snapped up all sorts of mystery books—everything from Encyclopedia Brown to Betty Ren Wright to the classics.

That said, mystery writing is also the most challenging—especially when I’m publishing as I write. It’s like building a house of cards—one small misstep, and the entire structure is off. It requires a LOT of forethought and planning.

Writing end scenes is also tough for me. I psyche myself out with grand expectations, worrying that the ending won’t be satisfying enough. This is a big reason why having a candid beta is so crucial. When I was writing Fraternité, I sent my final chappy to my then-beta, Le Chat Noir, as well as a trusted reader, Cookies. They very bluntly told me it read like a scene from a Disney movie—everything was tied up too perfectly. I was pissed at first, but then I combed through the chapter and saw that they were right. All it was missing was a damned singing bluebird. It didn’t match the rest of my story, which was dark and grounded in real life struggles like guilt, paranoia, justice, vengeance, love. So I rewrote the entire thing until it meshed.
I’ve since learned to write my end scene before I even start the first chapter. HL5 has an ending written—no one’s seen it, although beta EbJ and Cookies both know how the story concludes. Even if I end up rewriting some of it, I have direction. I’ve got the final-scene anticipation out of my system and can take the page-time needed to get there.

9. Do you find that any certain characters of yours more difficult to write than others? Who is your favorite character to write?

HL5 Bella definitely is difficult to write. Strange, I know, since she’s the narrator. Here’s the trick—she’s a bit of an unreliable narrator. Bella internalizes her thoughts and feelings rather than bluntly voicing them like Rosalie and Emmett do. She rarely shares her deep-down fears and pains with her friends—only the symptoms. She sucks big-time at verbal communication. Instead, she’s a do-er. Those who understand this about her—like Rosalie, Edward, and Renee—watch her actions, or even blatant lack of action (not changing her name, not asking for answers, not talking about her divorce) to get a read on where her heart is.

Edward takes a long time to make a decision, but when he does, he stubbornly holds to it. Bella however, is rash. She’ll make snap choices then stew over them later, getting her into a world of confusion. Edward is protective of Bella, even after he gave up that right. But Bella refuses to be a burden. So obviously, these two clash.

On top of that, both she and Edward tend to be avoidant, for different reasons. Needless to say, their dialogue is tough to craft; they dance around each other.

Favorite to write? Leah’s fun. She’s absolutely crazy, misanthropic, bitter…but she knows it and embraces it. Whether she’s training dogs or training Bella, Leah sees herself as a Svengali…a Henry Higgins. She struggles to mold Bella into her idea of a scorned woman, and has a difficult time understanding why Bella doesn’t want Edward’s head on a platter, despite the heartache he’s caused her.

Edward’s book excerpts are another favorite to write. Bella’s narrative voice is pragmatic and playful. Edward, however, is a deep thinker. While Bella expresses herself through her actions, Edward shares himself through his writing. Bella knows this—she’s mentioned that they wrote music together, that Edward has always had a way with words. His writing style is more complex, more metaphorical, more lyrical. I love writing Edward’s writing excerpts (did you follow that?) because it gives me a chance to stretch my creative prose muscles and use a surrealistic, poetic voice.

10. What do you like to see in a review? Are twilight reviewers different from others you have dealt with in the past?

First and foremost, I appreciate when reviewers are polite. It’s frustrating, yet fun, for readers to follow a mystery fic in progress. My stories usually aren’t simple “whodunnits”—they require some work on the readers’ part to find those clues and piece them together, in addition to waiting for certain elements to fall into place. But my audience is an intelligent bunch. It’s thrilling to see them Sherlocking it, cobbling together theories. Some are close, some are way off.

My favorite reviews are the ones where it’s obvious the reader has thought about the dialogue, the characters’ actions, and back-story. They set aside their preconceived ideas from other fics and enjoy the story for what it is. For example, I love Tuesday Jane’s reviews. She re-read the earlier chapters and discovered nuances she missed the first time around. She then sent me a review that analyzed HL5 Bella and Edward’s characterization. And let me tell you, she was spot on. Now I revisit her reviews, along with many other readers’ reviews, when one of my characters is stumping me. It helps to keep my writing consistent.

And of course, I love when reviewers simply say they enjoy my story. It’s so incredibly encouraging—it helps me push through rough patches. That’s why I reply to every review—I truly appreciate them, even the one or two-liners.

Past fandom reviewers? Honestly, I thought that Twilight fans would be harsher because of fierce devotion to these characters, especially Edward. And I do struggle with reader expectation of the Bella/Edward ship, just like any Twi-fic writer. But in reality, Twilight readers have been very generous and insightful. Some fans read the word ‘divorce’ in a two-sentence summary and look elsewhere, which is understandable, but disappointing. The readers who have made it past the divorce summary and puzzling Prologue ‘screening process’ get gold stars!
Another difference—Sherlock Holmes and The Phantom of the Opera fandoms have been around for a century-plus (I bet Edward was a fan). They’ve hashed out their beefs long ago, agreed to disagree, and have since established fanons in addition to canon. Heck, becoming a member of the SH Baker Street Irregulars Society is akin to getting into Harvard…not kidding. I can see the Harry Potter fandom existing a hundred years from now in a similar manner. The Twilight fandom, however, is just developing. It’s exciting to be a part of it!

11. Do you plan on writing more stories for Twilight fandom? What genres or characters do you find interesting or would you like to explore?

Possibly. I’m a one-fanfic-at-a-time gal, though I’ve been known to toss in a short story or two for contests. Big secret…I have an HL5 sequel sketched out, but it may or may not pan out, depending on what goes down in HL5. I don’t know if it will be necessary or not. I’d like to write a vampire story—a historical fiction, or one set far into the future. We’ll see. I also find the other vampire covens and nomads fascinating, and we barely got to know them. I could see a short story or two coming out of possibilities there.
Genres…I’ve never written a fanfic parody (that I’ve published, anyway. I did a one-shot spoof of Fraternité called “Frat House” that’s never seen the light of day, for good reason…it’s pretty naughty, and I wrote it to prank my beta. I think Cookies has it).

12. What is the guiltiest pleasure that you indulge in?

Late 1970-80s ‘warm fuzzy’ music: Duran Duran, A-Ha, The Outfield, Boston, Journey, Styx, The Cure. My cell phone ring tone is “More Than a Feeling.” I love how whenever it rings, people get this happy, nostalgic look on their faces. Or maybe they’re smirking. Hmm.

I-Tunes. I’ve somehow convinced myself that when I click that “buy” button, I’m not really spending money. I’m always on the hunt for new music to add to my playlist. I found Johnny Flynn thanks to Rob Pattinson’s Christmas recommendation. Readers have also recommended quite a few songs and bands that I now love. And I’ve found music through research. I stumbled across Hey Marseilles and Fleet Foxes while researching Bumbershoot. Check them out—they’re incredible lyricists and know how to work those harmonies. And of course, Music Sundays has become a new obsession for me!


  1. Can I say that I'm thrilled I'm not the only one who cures writer's block with a shower? I swear that's where all of my best ideas are generated.

    And it's always interesting to hear about another writer's process. Thanks for sharing all of this with us.

    I think I am going to go download More Than a Feeling now... it's not like it costs anything... I just click a button...

  2. An HL5 sequel possibility?! Even knowing the idea is out there makes me happy. :) However, I trust your judgement implicitly.

    This interview is fab. Knowing what your process is in writing HL5 makes that much more fun to think about. Your writing is so intentional. It's like a beautiful, artistic science. I like that you already have the end written. I find that comforting somehow.

    I have to say that reviewing is so much more fun when the writing is remarkable. It's just the natural thing to do after spending all day thinking about it!

    P.S. Love your perspective on iTunes. Genius.


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