Interview with Author L. Jagi Lamplighter author of The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin. 7/25/2013
I was wondering where you get your story ideas?
Not exclusively, but many of the things I write were roleplaying games before they become novels.
I think the reason I like writing up roleplaying games is two-fold. One, we spend a lot of time and effort on them, so why waste the work?
Two, the fact that there are several people interacting gives a kind of reality to the story that is a little different from what a person might make up on their own. One person might have certain shortcomings of vision—we all have some. In a game, that shortcoming is often compensated for by the insight of the other players.
For instance, right now, I am writing a YA about a girl who falls in love with her boyfriend’s best friend—who also happens to be, she finds out after she falls for him, her sister’s boyfriend. Now you can’t ask for a better love-triangle (quadrangle, really, because her boyfriend is secretly crushing on her sister.)
But no one made it up. It just unfolded. In the game, the sister’s boyfriend was intended to be an enemy, not a love interest. But players often surprise moderators, and so the love triangle was born. And it’s perfect for a YA.
Also, a game is a great way to get a first reaction to an idea, try a magic system to see if it works, develop background characters and places.
Other than roleplaying…I pray and give all credit for the rest of my ideas to the Divine Muse.
What is the usual process for your fiction writing? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Heh, heh. I hate the word pantser. It was made up by a ‘plotter’, and you can tell. I do know people who write by the seat of their pants. But what they do is different than what, for the lack of a better word, Musers do…those of us who listen to the Muse.
I love outlining. But the moment I write an outline, my creativity stops. It’s like I’ve told the story, and now my mind is done. It won’t return to the novel. I think one reason for this is that one of the things that keeps writing interesting is the infusion of new creativity into what I am doing. So, if I think I already know what to write, I’m doomed.
But my writing is not random either. I have to listen very carefully to the Muse…it is like waiting for something to unfold. My favorite quote on this topic is from author Terry Pratchett, who describes writing as walking through a valley of mist where you can see the peaks but you don’t yet know what you will encounter on the path between them.
Once you have an idea that sparks your imagination do you research your idea or do any world-building exercises, or do you just begin to write and see where the Muse takes you?
A bit of both. Often, if the story does come from a game, a lot of world building was done for the game. Usually, before the end, I need to do research and world-building. But often, I start writing, and then I stop to do more research when I hit a dry spot or run into a wall.
What is your daily writing like?
Somewhere between three and five days a week, I get the kids out—the first one leaves at 6:30, the last one around 9am—and then sit down at the computer. Probably it takes an hour or so to read email, check social media sites, and get myself to concentrate. Then I write. Sometimes, I stop when the eldest comes home at 2:30, sometimes I keep writing until dinnertime.
Often, I don’t get as many days like this a week as I wish. I am trying to make better use of my time and get more time actually writing.
Are you a full time writer? If so when did you make the decision and what factors led to the decision. If you are not a full time writer…Is your plan to one day being a full time writer?
I am a full-time writer, if, by that, you mean do I do something else. I am also a stay-at-home mom. The second often eclipses the first. I hope, in the future, to have more hours to write, but I am very grateful that I get as many as I do.
Can you tell us about your experience working with your current publisher? (Any other publishers?) (And/Or your self-publishing experiences?)
I have two publishers now: Tor and Dark Quest Books. Tor has been really great to work with. I love my editor and everyone I’ve worked with there. Dark Quest is exciting because it is something new. I don’t have much experience with them yet, but, so far they are great to work with.
Dark Quest is a small press house. They let me purchase my own cover art. I wanted to do this because my editor and I at Tor were not happy with the cover on my first two Prospero Books. The art on those first two books is beautiful, but it gives the wrong impression about what kind of story is inside. Enough so that some people who buy the book find its not what they want, and some people who enjoy it once they read it, avoided it for a time due to having gotten the wrong impression from the cover.
So this time, I got to pick the artist myself. I spent about two months contacting artists and discussing prices. Quite a few of the ones I liked did fantasy photography. The fact that my heroine is a 13 year old Asian girl in a graduation gown made their work difficult. An artist friend sent me a sketch that was just wonderful! I ended up going with him, and I am really delighted with the final product. It has been such a fun process to be involved in.
What is your current release and (without spoilers) tell us about the new book or series.
My new release is the first book in a series called The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin. It will be a YA “Harry Potter for girls with angsty romance” or “Harry Potter meets Fringe meets Narnia.”
Thirteen-year-old Rachel Griffin is invited to Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts a year early because her perfect memory helps her with her school work. It also allows her to remember things that other people cannot see. When someone tries to kill one of her new friends on her first day at school, Rachel begins to suspect a dangerous conspiracy. She soon discovers that in the same way that her World of the Wise hides things from mundane folk, there is another more secret world that has been hidden from her.
This does not, however, stop her from making friends and, more importantly, finding romance!
Part of the charm of this story is the background world. Roanoke Academy is situated in New York State’s Hudson Highlands (where Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle are from.) For the school itself, I used many aspects of St. John’s College in Annapolis, to give the place a slightly different flavor. I also spent a great deal of time rethinking what a magic school might be like, so that while there are many things that will remind readers of Harry Potter and many of its imitators, there is plenty of new ideas to keep the reader entertained.
So far, readers have seemed to really enjoy it…which I find just delightful!
Can you tell us about some of your other writing and any appearances or signings that you have planned?
My other works are the Prospero’s Daughter trilogy from Tor. It is a kind of a modern sequel to Shakespeare’s Tempest. Or, if you like: The Tempest meets Dante’s Inferno. The premise is that Prospero never drowned his books or released his Aerie Spirits. He and his children have protected mankind from the supernatural for 500 years. Now, he’s gone missing, and his daughter Miranda has to gather all her wayward siblings together to mount a rescue.
It is a fun story with humor, mystery, and as much magic as I could fit in. People who read it seem to really like the characters. Some don’t like Miranda at first, because she starts off rather callous and cold, but the story is, in part, about how she grows to gain compassion. Luckily, readers say that they enjoy the secondary characters so much, in particular Miranda’s brother Mephisto and her sidekick Mab—an Aerie Spirit in a body that looks a bit like Humphrey Bogart, that they are carried along in the story until Miranda improves.
As an author what inspiration or advice would you give to a writer who is working to make the transition to Author?
Keep writing. Don’t give up. That’s the most important advice. Be true to yourself and your muse. Bear up under adversity, and don’t settle for second best.
Other than that, I find that beta readers are invaluable. But don’t rely too much on one person’s opinion. I have found that one reader will suggest I cut something that turns out to be the next reader’s favorite part. It is important to get second opinions, because often we overlook things that a fresh pair of eyes will catch. But it is also important to trust your muse over the opinions of others.
Writing is often a balancing act.
For more specific advice, I keep a list of Writer’s Tips for myself…so I won’t forget lessons I’ve learned. I wrote an article about each tip and posted them on my website. Anyone interested can check them out here:
Who is your favorite author, and can you recommend a book or series by that author?
Someone once described the Prospero’s Daughter series as: “Neil Gaiman meets C. S. Lewis, or, for an American equivalent, Roger Zelazny meets Lloyd Alexander.”
I love all those authors and recommend them. I particular recommend C.S. Lewis—both the Narnia books and his Planetary Trilogy, and Roger Zelazny’s Amber series. Lloyd Alexander is the author of the wonderful children’s series, The Chronicles of Prydain. I also love Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings.
If you want something a bit more unusual, I recommend the children’s book, Carbonel, King of Cats by Barbara Sleigh. It’s kind of a Harry Potter precursor. It even refers to the bad guy as ‘You-Know-Who’ at one point. As far as current series, I’m a huge fan of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series. I recommend that to anyone.