What comes first-- the plot, the characters, or the setting?
This is a harder question than it sounds! I normally start with a snippet from a scene, actually, which might have a few elements of all three. For Half a Soul, I had a very clear picture of the scene where Dora is washing her dress in a fountain and Elias tries to explain to her why that comes off as strange. I don't know that the plot, the characters, or the setting came first there—I just had the fancy that this Regency-era woman was living her life as though she were in a dream, and that was going to be a problem for her.
Who is your favorite character in 'Half a Soul?' Or if that's too much like choosing your favorite child, who's your favorite to write?
I think I ended up really liking many of the characters in Half a Soul—but in the end, my favourite is no contest! I enjoyed writing Dora the most. She has such a unique approach to the world, and her condition made even the most mundane scenes more interesting. Her lack of acute emotion really surprised and confounded everyone around her. The most interesting parts, I found, were when she was trying to pretend at emotions she didn't actually feel. With a more emotionally-normal main character, the conflict in a scary scene would be: I am scared, how do I find my courage? But with Dora, the conflict shifted and became: Oh dear, how do I pretend to be scared? I deeply enjoyed writing that.
If you had to describe your main character in three words, what would they be?
Hm. Dissociative Regency lady, I think.
If this book had a playlist, what genre of music would be most prominent?
This book does have a playlist! I always keep playlists for my writing. Music helps me switch into the mindset of the novel very quickly. In the case of Half a Soul, I had mostly classical music by modern composers—preferably with just a hint of the weird. For a lot of the book, I found myself listening to Agnes Obel's Under Giant Trees, but I also listened to a lot from the composer Ludovico Einaudi. I should add that my husband found all of the above for me, actually—I put together an initial playlist, but he's got a really fantastic ear for music and a kind of encyclopedic knowledge of artists that always floors me. More than once while I was writing, I'd get a message from him with a new song to listen to, with a note that this really reminds me of Elias or this is definitely Dora's song.
What one question or thought would you like your readers to consider after they finish the book?
I've always felt that the strength of satire is the ability to reflect and refract your world in such a way that you're forced to reconsider it from an outsider's point of view. The faeries in Half a Soul have really observed the culture of the time with complete naivety and taken it to extremes—but in the end, they aren't entirely wrong about many of their observations. Dora finds herself more than a little taken aback by basic English mores of the era when they're played out before her in that manner: the ideas that being rich makes you virtuous and that poor people must be punished with work for its own sake.
I think the main thing I would ask a reader to consider is what a faerie from this setting might make of their modern-day culture—and whether the reader would be pleased or horrified by the conclusions such a creature would draw from their culture.
What is your most unusual writing quirk or ritual?
I think my strangest quirk is that, when I really get stuck or frustrated, I will sometimes intentionally read or watch something that I know I'll find only so-so. I find that most of my impetus to write comes from the irritation of something not-quite-right. For instance, I might watch a television show with a fantastic premise and quite decent characters who nonetheless make utterly irrational decisions in order to advance the plot; by the end of an episode or two, I'll have that niggling annoyance at the back of my head telling me I need to sit down and do this correctly.
Ironically, I'm not sure that this works very well with truly terrible art. I just end up feeling a bit tired and morose if something is that bad, like I've wasted my evening. Really good art sometimes inspires me too, but it's far more common to find middle-of-the-road art where you think ah, but if you'd only changed one thing, you could have been fantastic!
What do you feel makes a story stand apart from the rest?
I think a good story either makes you think or else makes you feel. I think a truly fantastic story makes you do both.
Is there a book you've read that impacted you more than any other?
That's an exceptionally difficult question! I've read a lot, and I'm sure I've been influenced by all kinds of bits and pieces along the way. But it will probably surprise no one that I have a lot of Terry Pratchett on my shelf. So many of his books are sharp, insightful, and entertaining all at once. It was probably Terry Pratchett who convinced me that my love of fantasy wasn't lesser in any way. But it was also Terry Pratchett who convinced me that I wanted to try my hand at young adult fiction—one of his young adult books, The Wee Free Men, was one of my favourites of all time.
Have you read anything that has influenced your perspective on fiction?
A friend who does scriptwriting recommended Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey to me. It's a dense book, but I did make my way through it, and it crystallized a lot of my instinctive understanding of the elements that make up a classical faerie tale. The structure of the hero's journey is especially relevant to my writing, since I love the literal journey to the Other World. That said, I don't know that I'd recommend the book to anyone unless they've got a decent bit of stamina. It's a bit of a monster.
What life experiences have shaped your writing the most?
Oddly, I think the life experiences that shaped my writing most were not actually my life experiences. I've had the privilege in the last decade or so of meeting and interacting with a lot of people from different walks of life, and observing the way that others treat them. I've led a very comfortable life, on the whole, and I've always had enough money and apparent normalcy that I came to assume that human beings were generally very nice, reasonable, logical creatures. But once I started keeping company with people who were just a little bit poor or not-quite-normal, I quickly saw how awful and irrational human beings can be when they're confronted by something they consider to be an annoyance. It's both saddening and very eye-opening to see someone cross a busy street just to tell another total stranger: "I don't like the way you look, and you better be careful, or else I'll hurt you."
I don't mean to be a downer. But that experience has absolutely been the main thing to shape my writing. I used to write in order to explore human heroism in the face of otherworldly adversity. But now I write in order to explore human heroism in the face of human cruelty and absurdity. I still think there are uplifting ways to do that, but it's important not to look away from the reality of it.
Share an obscure fact with me, anything you found interesting.
Pineapples! During my research into the Regency era, I discovered that pineapples were considered such a rare, expensive commodity that many parties rented a pineapple centrepiece just to show it off, and then returned it afterward uneaten! Some pineapples got passed around so much that they'd eventually rot and require replacing. I gained such a strange appreciation for pineapples after learning about that. I take pictures now whenever I see one while I'm out and about. My favourite brunch place has a whole pile of pineapples on display, and I can't help grinning at it like an idiot every time I go there to eat.
Your bio lists some really interesting past jobs (historical re-enactor, professional witch at a metaphysical supply store, web developer, vending machine repairperson). Besides writing, which of those you've held was your favorite and why?
I took away something special from every odd job I've ever done. But I'll always have a special nostalgia for vending machines. Vending was a family business, growing up, and I spent many summers riding around town in a pickup truck with either my father or my mother, depending on the day. It was very hands-on work, and I'm proud of the fact that, to this day, I can still clear a dollar-bill jam. Because we had to spend so long in the truck, and because we ran jukeboxes and had lots of CDs, we played a lot of music, and spent plenty of time talking to each other. At the time, I was sometimes sad I didn't get to spend my summers slacking off. But now that I look back on it, I got to spend more time with my family than most people, and I really cherish a lot of those memories.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I run tabletop roleplaying games! My husband and I are both habitual gamemasters. I've run Dungeons & Dragons groups for as long as I can remember—though these days, I prefer either Fate or Pathfinder, 1st edition. Running tabletop games is still storytelling, in a sense, but it comes with the unexpected pleasure of having your characters misbehave and take your story in directions you absolutely weren't expecting. My players pride themselves on doing clever things to outwit my plot-line, and I pride myself on accommodating their clever choices on-the-fly and letting them alter the story's course of events.