Your micro-stories do indeed solicit interest in your novels! How did you think, or decide, to create the short stories to merge with your art work? The stories are disconnected, but do they dwell only before your novels begin? Or do they sometimes supplement or complement what is covered in the books?
The micro-stories arose out of a need to tell stories which couldn't possibly be covered in the novels. I've been writing (and drawing) for these characters since I was seventeen. I'm now thirty six. There are things which can't be told in the novels, due to the natural progression of the series. For example, the first novel is set in 4041. The stories are seemingly disconnected, but I'm weaving them in so that once you read the novels, they will make sense. Readers are clever and make connections. (I have to be very careful not to give too much away about the novels, due to this! In fact I've had one reader come close to guessing who The Guild Master's General may be!)
You'll notice the last micro-story is set around 4037. I've written many books that are set before the first novel, Unbound Boxes Limping Gods. None of these books will ever be released. However, the first story, issue 1: Alexand Merek, is based on one of the chapters in the fledgling novel. It was something I felt very strongly about telling and have always wanted to illustrate. Alexand has been through so much in her life, it would be a shame for readers to miss out on all of these events. Usually a character's past life is restricted to sub-plot in a traditional novel. I wanted to explore alternative ways of telling a story, which is why I use illustration. We'll see if this works well with the novel, once it's eventually published. I'll leave that decision to the readers!
As for supplementing what's in the books, I'm careful not to tread on that territory. I can't go into too much detail because the micro-stories so far, compliment the first novel. As it's not been published (seeking publication) I'm very reticent to use characters associated with anything beyond the first novel. (With the exception of Anum Anzeti, who makes his first appearance in book three, The Guild Master's General) I better not say too much about him or that book though!!! These micro-stories are primarily a way for readers to understand my characters more thoroughly, before they potentially read the first novel. Emotionally the characters are like you and me, effectively real and therefore deserve to be understood as such. The micro-stories are an experiment, but I enjoy writing and illustrating this world and sharing it with those who want to take that journey with me. Hopefully some day the first novel will be available to read too. One thing I know, is that as long as I'm able to, I'll continue writing these micro-stories, to complement my novels. It has become very addictive.
How do you and have you reached that balance to chose what to put in novel versus the micro-stories?
The novels are written to stand completely alone from the micro-stories, in fact I didn't start writing the micro-stories until after book five The Woman Who Never Was was completed. To me it's really a case of withholding a lot of information from the micro-stories. I have the luxury of using many characters to tell my stories. The average book may have one or two main characters, but as you can see on the character list. I have many more than most writers and therefore can afford to spare a little in the back story department. In this sense, the micro-stories can be about any character before the main timeline of the first novel. I deal mostly with their backgrounds, emotions and sub-stories. An exception to this is the ongoing saga of Anastasia's abuse at the hands of Lord Ichitumbu. I took a while to decide to include this, as it is one of the issues in Unbound Boxes Limping Gods. I feel it was something that needed to be touched upon. Chantal Boudreau described the micros better than I can. She said: "It is kind of like looking through a little window and eavesdropping on their existence before someone slams the shutter quickly closed again."
The novels are differently structured. I am very disciplined when it comes to their timeframe and content. I want to take the reader on a journey, for them to relate to my characters. There are no shutters, I want the reader to become caught up in what's going on as if he/she is "there". The best I can describe is that I see myself as the director of the novel. I have to choose story and characters carefully. I see the world within the novels, like our own, it has many complicated potential story-lines, but the focus is very much on Alexand and what happens to her and those around her. Unlike the micro-stories, only one larger story can be told, but using multiple voices to tell it, as other main characters play key parts. The reader has to be taken on a journey as opposed to being simply teased by the micro stories.
The similarities between the micro-stories and the novels are mainly that each chapter (and sub-chapter) is told by the first person perspective. For example in the first novel the reader hears Alexand's voice, then Eldenath's and then Sam's. Alexand is the main focus of the novels, but the reader is introduced to the story via multiple character perspectives.
Cheryl! How did all this start? What is your writing background, when did you start writing? Who are your role models/which books brought you to experiment with this speculative world of yours? Is it totally separated from your real life? How do you move from life into this world of Alexand?
Glenda, I was seventeen when Alexand popped into my head. I was bunking off a theatre studies class at college, as I wasn’t the most sociable of teens. She was born in a park in Farnham, England, called “Borrelli.” I sat on a bench and stared at the river and she just came to me, almost as if she’d decided to introduce herself, despite not existing physically. I’d written other stories, but this character latched onto me and developed into something which has taken over my life, admittedly.
I was greatly influenced by worlds in which I, as a reader, could escape into. Writers such as Anne Rice, Neil Gaiman and Joanna Russ had and have a great impact as well as Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood, Alma Alexander, Alan Moore, and Clive Barker, to name a few. I love The Sandman graphic novels, The Ballad of Halo Jones, The Female Man, Interview With a Vampire, The Handmaid’s Tale, Paradise and many more. I found myself as a young woman, searching for something or some other place in which I felt I belonged. I was quite an odd child. In fact I spent most of my childhood thinking I was Erik Estrada from C.H.I.P.’s which perhaps didn’t help my ability to fit into groups whilst growing up! Anyway... moving swiftly on...
I can remember writing my earliest story at about ten. It was about a detective who was also a dog. I illustrated it, but unfortunately haven’t got that any more. I’ve always written, in fact I used to carry a notepad and pen with me until I was about twenty-six. (Around the time my own real life son was born and I had to grow up a bit more!)
My real life and the life in which I live in fiction are not always separable, these characters are intrinsic parts of myself. Not only do I have to write and illustrate the micro-stories, I live with my characters, in a way see them as living (but invisible) people. I have an external and internal world, like everyone, but this world and its people are fused to me! Fortunately it is something which I can share in writing and illustration. My son comes first, always, but Alexand a close second! Moving from this life into hers is dependent on many factors. Multitasking is something I’ve learned, especially with a ten-year-old son... but this fictional life is never too far away.
Erik Estrada? I would have thought you would have been a fictional superhero! LOL If you were to write the back cover blurb for your novel, what would it say?
The blurb on the back cover for the novel, Unbound Boxes Limping Gods, goes something like this...
Alexand Merek is a woman who treasures "Bad Things," and delights in music. She has done something stupid, placing those she loves in danger. Women like her are not welcome in the ordinary world, where women who play piano and dance with wives are placed into, "The Bad Thing Box." Alexand must fight to bring her lost family back together to save them from an unimaginable fate.
Ok...your blurb has indeed hooked me! I was thinking about your artwork more...the characters are rarely what you would call handsome or beautiful. Indeed the world created is dark and as you say, we think of "bad things..." Is this representative of the entire world circa 3997 or is this just the world that surrounds Alexand? Because no matter what you say, or what she has done, Alexand has strength and character...and good... but how do I "know" this...I have read an insufficient amount of material to "know" this...Tell me, am I wrong?
I'm glad you picked up on that Glenda. The artwork is quite grim although I've managed to slip in a piece of work reflecting Alexand's quite unbreakable sense of humour. Although Alexand's life experiences have been tough, she as a person is quite a positive and funny character. There is a lot of humour in the novels, which isn't as apparent in the micro-stories. Alexand sees beauty in things that aren't necessarily traditionally beautiful. Her thought processes are in themselves quite beautiful to me as a writer. Alexand and a lot of the characters make for quite positive things to come out of bad situations. Alex is quite a delightful person to be around in fact. Which is probably why after all these years I'm still writing about her. I'm pleased you see that hidden side, through the murk and grime of the world she's trapped in. As with all people's lives, her life goes in cycles. Some years or days are bad, and others fantastic!
Cheryl, Intriguing... I love when a writer refers to a character as if she existed outside of the writer's "pen"...because, after all, you MUST admit that if Alexand's thought processes are quite beautiful, you are paying yourself a compliment that your own thought processes are quite beautiful... I'm glad to hear that humor will be part of the novels...much needed given the many tragic events happening in the lives of your characters! By the way, is your reference about humor the picture appearing above the couch in one of your family shots? If not, I'll have to go searching...LOL I did enjoy the wry humor Alexand exhibited when she had a new cell mate in prison...
As the author, what made you merely reverse the same name in "birthing" Alexand and her twin?
Although Alex and Heyem are very different people, their lives have certain common elements. Heyem is often upset to find her own life ending up on a similar path to Alex (Alex is older by half an hour) Their parents, Inajda and Eric were very young when they had them and reversed their names because they are identical. It wasn't anything very deep on their part, Although Eric's father was called Alexand. It's a family name, meaning 'Defender of the people'. Heyem means 'Home.' The twins seem to mirror and repel each other, but both have a common interest in protecting and providing stability for the people in their lives. Alex is a better soldier and Heyem is much more stable and reliable as she hasn't had the same traumas as her sister.
In creating your character personalities, readers form opinions based upon those personality characteristics, right? How closely do you then use those characteristics to create your novels? Or did you write your novels and form the personality fact sheets as you developed your micro-stories? One story is a good example of why I raise the question. When I read about Heyem on her character data sheet, I got the picture of a selfish, jealous sister...yet I find myself, personally, very empathetic to Heyem in this story...so, naturally, LOL, I don't think of her as being selfish or jealous...more, I find her responsible in spite of her personal life preferences... Can we, then, even with characters, truly define the individual they really are?
Although the reader forms opinions just as we do when meeting real people for the first time, it's important to remember that these micro-stories are merely glimpses into good and bad days, and behaviour. Alex is no angel, and has made some bad mistakes, she loves her children, and her husband, but on bad days isn't capable of being a wife and mother, or a soldier. Heyem has had to clear up on many occasions. This story is important as I wanted to show that there is much more to their relationship than just rivalry and jealousy. Heyem cares about the children's welfare but isn't a natural mother. In a different life, Alexand could be a wonderful mother. Alexand is a very lovely but damaged woman. She and Jarad have a tempestuous relationship as they are both very emotional people. Alex has a drinking problem, and Jarad just doesn't have the tools to help her recover, and get the help she needs. She isn't a typical hero in that respect, but everyone has done things in their lives they aren't proud of. Just to give you some perspective, later on, a few micro stories down, after Ancille's story, Alexand promises her daughter she will not drink again. She goes on cold turkey, with the help of Heyem, her mother Inajda and Heyem's wife, Maria. Alexand and Jarad agree that it's best for their family if she retires. Jarad is a language lecturer and arranges a position in a University on the Island of Goa. Alexand plans to teach piano. Things don't go according to plan, but that's what was decided in order to attempt to mend their family.
I do recognize, again, the micro-story providing glimpses of the individual. What I find fascinating is that, because of these "intrusions" into a character's life, we automatically become more involved, more concerned about them. I have found this to be the case in novels--if the writer takes the time to develop their characters, then we as readers often claim that we found the book character-driven, that we "loved" the characters... In a book I'll review later this week, I found that the action, the trauma of what was happening was so all-consuming, that the characters were not as important... I'm wondering whether your novels will appeal to me as character-driven or as more story-driven...
I’d be interested to hear what you think! (Note: Cheryl's has given me the honor of allowing me to read her unpublished manuscript, which I'll be reviewing in the future!)
Two stories bring in immortals...can you share a little more about this world without giving anything away from your novels? Bringing in immortality for characters is new...are they the more traditional gods like Zeus, etc., or are they more vampirish... At first I didn't understand the "paintings" that were not yet accepted...then I got it. Can you imagine repainting parts of the world? Also, the poison of this bloodline to the group...Again, not asking for you to go beyond what you can share at this time.
The Amanojuko are human made, but I won’t go into too much detail as this is something which is covered in the first novel. There are Amanojuko who were born human and made immortal by a series of experiments and there were others (who believe themselves superior) who were born immortal. Alexand’s blood is something which is also a feature of the first and second books, but I can reveal that her resistance and subsequent ability to destroy Amanojuko is a genetic factor unique to left-handed members of her direct family, descending from her grandfather’s line. (His short story hasn’t been written yet... His name is Xan and he also has alopecia. A side effect of this gift they have for destroying their enemy.) Ancille and Anastasia are mirror twins. Anastasia is left handed and Ancille is right handed. Both Alexand and Heyem are left handed. This plays a key factor in their resistance to the Amanojuko virus as their immune systems work slightly differently. Basically they can’t be turned, although Heyem hasn’t been through the same genetic switches as Alex, to enable her to become a biological weapon. I won’t say any more! Around the time Alexand met Katherine De Somme, (3984) there was a terrible outbreak of what they called ‘plague’ which was actually a government created virus (to control rebels). Ichitumbu Jalhavi was one of these unfortunate victims. He was given an antidote (I won’t say by whom) which turned his body into that of an Amanojuko. Katherine De Somme and Alexand were also infected by ‘plague’, but Katherine died, whereas Alexand was given an antidote, different from Ichitumbu’s, which cured her of plague, but switched on her body’s ability to fight the Amanojuko virus. I really can’t go into too much detail here, unfortunately.
I must comment on your creativity and imagination...I know that anybody can "conceive" of ideas...but how do you go about taking a concept from the idea into full bloom...and then use it, as you do so well, to take that to then branch off into more and more unique and new concepts. I'm still not clear how you chose to go so far into the future and decide to "drop" your stories into different countries and times. In your novels, do you have a more traditional beginning and ending, free-standing...or will they be truly a series that will stop and force readers to wait until the next book is out to know what happens?
I see the life of each character as separate, but can then connect them to one another. I’ve been writing this mythology since I was seventeen and know the events very well. Sometimes I learn new things when I’m writing, but have a very good sense of what has happened in the world’s past. Each character stitches the fabric of the story together. As for dropping the stories into different countries and times, some micro-stories may have started to connect together, whilst others seem isolated. The world is huge, and my characters have the luxury of particle physics to allow them access to different places very quickly. Some of my characters can’t age (not connected to the immortal Amanojuko, this is a result of future technology, a chemical which switches off the aging process, called SIR2HX) and therefore I can allow greater periods of time to elapse. In the novels the timeframe is more traditional in respect of a beginning, middle and end, but admittedly, there are a few cliff hangers amongst them!
Cheryl, it has been such a wonderful privilege to have you here at Book Reader's Heaven. To close out our interview...here's my final question...is there anything that you'd really like to share with your readers, but I just haven't asked you? Thanks again for visiting!
It’s been a pleasure, Glenda, I’m very glad you asked me and have enjoyed talking to you at Book Reader’s Heaven. If I asked myself a question, it would probably be. “After nearly completing book six, do you see yourself writing further books in the series?” The answer would be, “I hope to never leave this world as it has become such a large part of my life. I don’t know what I’d do if I ran out of stories. I hope that one day I can share the novels with others as well as these tiny micro glimpses.” Thank you for inviting me, Glenda.
|Main Character Alexand, as her husband tries |
to coax her away from the piano...
Note the tremendous detail, including the
fingers that have been replaced for Alexand...