Sunday, May 23, 2010

Interview with Lisa Mantchev, author of Eyes Like the Stars and Perchance to Dream

Lisa Mantchev, author of Eyes Like the Stars and Perchance to Dream kindly agreed to answer some questions about her writing.

Me: Where does PERCHANCE TO DREAM pick up after EYES LIKE THE STARS?

Lisa: Almost immediately after ELS ends... I don't like having too much time pass, or I just have to pause to explain what's happened in the interim, and it feels like an infodump.

Me: How will Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed survive so far away from all the sweets in the Green Room?

Lisa: They end up getting a bit... *ahem* creative about procuring dessert, which naturally causes problems for the troupe. I could say more, but it might ruin it (like a pie to the kisser!)

Me: EYES LIKE THE STARS began as a short story. How long was it before you knew it was going to be a trilogy?

Lisa: About the time I wrote the ending for the first book. I knew by then it wasn't a standalone, that I needed to write at least one more book to tie up all the plot threads, if not two. What's funny is my web guru and beta reader was teasing me from the beginning that it would be a trilogy, and I swore up and down that it wouldn't. Oops!

Me: How much did you plot before you started drafting PERCHANCE TO DREAM?

Lisa: It's strange... I always spend quite some time noodling out the story, in my head and on paper, and then that first draft ends up with its guts on the floor by the time I'm done rewriting. Someday, I will be come to terms with the fact that I can't seem to write a coherent first draft to save my life.

Me: Do you have a particular "stage" where you find it easier to write?

Lisa: If you mean where I prefer to set up my laptop, I can write just about anywhere (and do...) My office, my dining room table, my little writing nook, the coffee table in the TV room, coffee shops, outside on the porch. It just depends where my daughter is playing!

Me: How many drafts did you go through before your were finished with PERCHANCE TO DREAM?

Lisa: There were at least two major sets of revisions with PTD, including the deletion of several minor characters and their storylines.

Me: Many of your characters are characters from plays written by other writers. Was it challenging to capture the epitome of a character who already exists in a new story?

Lisa: With quite a lot of the Shakespeare characters, they are only "onstage" for limited periods of time. When it came to using them in larger roles (Ariel, Ophelia) I deliberately chose the ones I thought would be most suited to having my own characterizations superimposed upon them... for example, Shakespeare doesn't mention if Ariel is a boy or a girl, just an airy spirit with a yearning for freedom. And Ophelia's madness left plenty of wiggle-room for me to write around.

Me: Were there any advantages to using characters who are already well known?

Lisa: Absolutely... and I was usually playing it for the laughs. There are a lot of little theater-reference jokes when the Shakespearean characters turn up, from lines like "Is this a doughnut I see before me?" to the Ghost of Hamlet's Father wearing a flowered bedsheet and acting like a guest character on an episode of Scooby Doo.

Me: The lines between reality and the magic of the theater are difficult to draw in Bertie's world. Did you find that to be true at all while you were creating it?

Lisa: That was actually quite deliberate... I didn't want a set of hard-and-fast rules about how the theater's magic works. I felt that by letting reality be nebulous, soft about the edges, it did a better job of capturing the true magic of being backstage in a theater.

Me: I happen to think The Theatre Illuminata would make a fabulous musical. Any chances of that ever happening?

Lisa: I would ~love~ to see something like that happen. And hey, there's already one musical number ready to go, right? *cues "What Will Become of You"*

Thanks you so much Lisa for taking the time to answer my questions and I look forward to picking up Perchance To Dream next time I hit the bookstore.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Old Pages

I write everything in my journal. Well maybe not everything. I gave up on the long accounts of how my day went after High School but my journals are filled cover to cover with To Do Lists, facts I want to remember, notes for research, pieces of dreams I want to do something with, coffee stains, plans for the restaurant I want to some day open, the bookstore I want to own, phone numbers, first drafts of chapters, story outlines, poetry that will never see the light of day, directions to the doctor's office and anything else that my mind is too small to hold but I want to some day remember.
My current journal has only one empty page left. I don't want to write on it.
I carry my journal with me everywhere. When I can't remember something I know it is in those pages if I can take the time to finger through them. As thrilling as the sight of empty pages, yet to be filled, will be after I finally use that last page I know I will feel like I've lost a body part for a few days. I always do. I will reach for my bag to pull out my journal and double check . . . no wait. That was in my old journal, which I left at home, on my bookshelf, collecting dust. Many of the ideas immortalized in there will be discarded after all and I will never think of them again.
Before I fill that last page I must remind myself of the excitement of holding two hundred blank pages in my hand, practically begging me to write whatever I want on them. I must remind myself of the space and freedom new thoughts and new things to remember will give me. I must remind myself that the old can not be relevant unless they teach us where to go with the new.
Still, I think I will miss the old pages.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Small Poems

Emily Dickenson wrote small poems. Hundreds of them. She lived a small life. A short life, lived mostly on the same small piece of land. She never wrote about great battles or interesting adventures or fascinating things she had seen because she never saw much. Instead she wrote about life. A small life lived by a small woman who saw small things.

Then why, after a hundred years, do we still read these small poems?

I read my sentence steadily,
Reviewed it with my eyes,
To see that I made no mistake
In its extremest clause, --

The date, and manner of the shame;
And then the pious form
That "God have mercy" on the soul
The jury voted him.

I made my soul familiar
With her extremity,
That at the last it should not be
A novel agony,

But she and Death, acquainted,
Meet tranquility as friends,
Salute and pass without a hint --
And there the matter ends.

I fear I must apologize

I am dreadfully sorry. I don't have any Literary Idol entries for you to vote on today as planned. We'll try again next month shall we?

Friday, May 14, 2010

One Last Reminder

Just one last reminder that submissions for Literary Idol close Monday the seventeenth. Don't forget to send a retelling of a myth to:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

An age old question

I came across this passage of an argument between a writer and a painter in Sir Walter Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor:

"Your characters," he said, "my dear Pattieson, make too much use of the gob box; they patter too much . . . . there is nothing for pages but mere chat and dialog."

"The ancient philosopher," said I in reply, "was wont to say, 'Speak, that I may know thee;" and how is it possible for an author to introduce the persona dramtis to his readers in a more interesting and effectual manner than by the dialog in which each is represented as supporting his own appropriate character?"

"It is a false conclusion," said Tinto; "I hate it, Peter as I hate an unfilled can. I will grant you, indeed, that speech is a faculty of some value in the intercourse of human affairs, and I will not even insist on the doctrine of that Pythagorean toper, who was of opinion, that over a bottle speaking spoiled conversation. But I will not allow that a professor of the fine arts has occasion to embody the idea of his scene in language in order to impress upon the reader its reality and its effect. On the contrary, I will be judged by most of your readers, Peter, should these tales ever become public whether you have not given us a page of talk for every single idea which two words might have communicated, while the posture, and manner, and incident, accurately drawn, and brought out by appropriate colouring, would have preserved all that was worthy of preservation, and saved these everlasting said he's and said she's, with which it has been your pleasure to encumber your pages."

I replied, "that he confounded the operations of the pencil and the pen; that the serene and silent art, as painting has been called by one of our first living poets, necessarily appealed to the eye, because it had not the organs for addressing the ear; whereas poetry, or that species of composition which approached to it, lay under the necessity of doing absolutely the reverse, and addressed itself to the ear, for the purpose of exiting that interest which it could not attain through the medium of the eye."

Dick was not a whit staggered by my argument, which he contended was founded on misrepresentation. "Description," he said, "was to the author of a romance exactly what drawing and tinting were to a painter; words were his colours, and, if properly employed, they could not fail to place the scene, which he wished to conjure up, as effectually before the mind's eye, as the tablet or canvas presents it to the bodily organ. The same rules," he contended, "applied to both, and an exuberance of dialog in the former case, was a verbose and laborious mode of composition which went to confound the proper art of fictitious narrative with that of the drama, a widely different species of composition of which dialog was the very essence, because all, excepting the language to be made use of, was presented to the eye by the dresses, and persons, and action of the the performers upon the stage. But as nothing," said Dick, "can be more dull that a long narrative written upon the plan of a drama, so where you have approached most near to that species of composition, by indulging in the prolonged scenes of mere conversation, the course of your story has become chill and constrained, and you have lost the power of arresting the attention and exciting the imagination, in which upon other occasions, you may be considered as having succeeded tolerably well.

There is a lot that could be discussed in this passage but I find it interesting to see artists --even fictional ones-- argue the same points a hundred years ago as we do now. And still we have no definite answers. Dialog or description? Show or tell? How much like drama should a narrative be? It is equally interesting that the popular answer to the question seems to have changed over the years. This was written by Sir Walter Scott who, to judge from his own work, strongly favored the painter's argument for description and he was possibly the most popular romance writer of his time, whereas now we would have more readers, as well as writers, favoring the author's argument for more dialog.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Something I am going to do anyways

I remember the first time the thought of exchanging my stories for money occurred to me. I was nineteen, walking to work at the local hamburger joint (yes walking, those who can afford cars that soon out of high school are blessed by the gods)after just having finished my third manuscript.

I was ten when I started my first story (not that I ever finished that one), thirteen when I started my first novel (not that it was any good) but even before that I wrote plays that me and my siblings performed in the living room with our box of dress up clothes. (Yes, we were --are?-- a strange brood but we have fun). I'm not sure exactly when I decided I wanted to write books and publish them but when I did that was all I thought of. Write a story I love. Send it to a publisher for them to print. Other people read it. The End. It wasn't until my day job was interfering with my time to celebrate just finished a manuscript that (I thought at the time) was actually ready for publication that money even crossed my mind. "Hey," I thought, "if I can publish this book I might not have to make hamburgers for a living. I would be getting money for something I am going to do anyways."

Something I am going to do anyways. I think sometimes I need to be reminded of that thought. I am not any closer to getting money in exchange for my words but the years of effort sometimes frustrate me. All that work, all that time and still nothing to show for it?

Not true. I have much to show for it. A story. I was going write it anyways.

EDIT: Oh yes, and there is only one week left to submit a piece of mythological brilliant to this month's literary Idol

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Do You Trust Your Story?

In doing research on alchemy for one of my manuscripts I was surprised by how much accuracy I had already put into my alchemist character (because, of course, waiting until I am finished before drafting is unheard of, involving, I don't know, logic or something). Some of this, like his involvement with the stars, herbs and explosives as well as turning metals into gold are logical enough. They are all different early branches of chemistry and physics, and probably filtered into my head from various sources I've read in the past and then forgotten about. But others, like his preoccupation with purifying the soul, I was surprised to discover were typical for alchemists. This is good because I won't have to make any major modifications to keep things accurate but it also proves that you can never go wrong in trusting your story. Sometimes you know things you didn't know you knew. You just have to Trust.

Trust. It's not quite the same thing as "believing in". That comes later. After you've finished and are sorting through piles of rejections every week.

Trust. That is when you follow your story even when it pulls you away from your original plan.

Trust is when a brilliant second opinion tells you to make a change that you just can't even though logically it would make sense (be careful with this one, I'm not trying to say not to be open to criticism. That's important too.)

Trusting your story is when you chase it through a draft at lightning speed or respect the fact that it wants to take things slow and enjoy the scenery.

Trust is knowing that your story knows what it is doing even if you don't.

Which actually means that you do know what you're doing and you just don't know it because your story is a part of you.

Do you trust your story?

(Don't forget to send me a piece for this months Literary Idol)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Literary Idol. Challenge One: Retell a Myth

I once said that I would never watch American Idol.

I lied.

Not that I don't still think it feeds America's delusions of grandier and preoccupation with fame with mediocre entertainment and the empty promise that it could be you next time. But on nights when nothing interesting is going on and I have too much a headache to read it gives me something to criticize (yes, you do know Simon is always right) and every once in awhile there is some actual talent showcased.

At any rate, I've noticed that pretty much every occupation has a reality show connected to it. Every occupation that is except writing. Understandable. It wouldn't be very visually stimulating to watch a group of people on lap tops trying to beat each other in whatever challenge they've been assigned even if only hot writers were allowed. However, I don't see why we shouldn't get to have something similar. And therefore I am going to conduct an experiment.

Literary Idol

Here are the rules. Every month I put out an assignment. Anyone who wants to participate can e-mail me their short story/chapter/poem/flash fiction at

I will draw a two week deadline after the gauntlet has been thrown and then start posting the pieces to be voted on. They will not be unanimous so feel free to use your wit and charm however you like to roll in more votes.

We won't be doing the actual Idol format of voting people off because I realize that some people might want to participate one month but not have time every month.

The winner then gets . . . the good feeling of having won and bragging rights to the title "Literary Idol" for a month. I would offer a critique or something but if I were honest I would admit that if you really want me to critique your work all you have to do is send it to me. No contest needed.

And so, may the games begin.

The first challenge, as stated in the title, is

Retell a myth. Whatever your interpretation of what a "myth" is. (fairy tale, urban legend, ancient mythology, local mythology, commonly believed false fact, historical myth . . .)

e-mail me your piece by Monday May 17th and the voting shall begin.

*Insert frightening music here*