I often think about why I am drawn to both reading and writing certain kinds of stories. I think where we come from and what we've experienced makes us who we are. So please give Elaine Isaak a warm welcome as we dig into her past and find out what makes her tick :-)
Kari: I truly believe our past is what makes us who we are and fuels our writing. You're very creative. You've moved around a bit and have a background in design. You even developed your own business called Curious Characters. Can you tell us what that was like?
Elaine: I like to talk about the writer as magpie--gathering shiny things to admire in the nest. You don't always know what you're going to do with the things you find, but the collection itself is a source of excitement and inspiration. One of the things that we don't realize we're collecting is experiences. Each time you enter into a different career or life direction, you're gathering new ideas, inspirations, metaphors. I find this is especially useful in different art forms. Photography and drawing hone the way that you see the world around you. Dance and martial arts make you think about how to use your body. And this new understanding then feeds into richer writing. So I like to throw myself into a new art every so often and make some discoveries.
Taking some of those artistic impulses and turning them into my business was very rewarding (if also frustrating and exhausting at times). I was designing custom and unique stuffed animals (including the stories to go along with them in some cases) some wearable art, and small-scale metal sculptures. I also learned some handy business skills, and got used to the idea of myself as an artist/entrepreneur. I'm comfortable thinking of my writing in business terms.
Kari: Our words are often a form of poetry. You won a couple poetry slams and even founded a poetry group. Can you tell us what that was like?
Elaine:One of the great things about poetry is that the attempt to capture a vivid moment in as few words as possible makes you really stretch to find the *right* word, the right order, the right phrasing to bring it alive for the reader. Often in fiction, I think we get sloppy just because we have the luxury of space (especially in novels) that we don't often focus on the individual word choices or short passages that are conveying the heart of the work. I also find that I look at the white space of words on a page, the placement of chapter breaks, and the rhythm of a text in a more poetic way. And slams really force you to present your work and engage the audience. If I'm any good at readings, it's because I was a slam poet.
Kari: Books are like pieces of fabric sewn together to make a whole. I see you did some freelance sewing for quilt squares and dance costumes. A big part of characterization comes in giving our characters quirks and making them unique in how they think, dress, act, etc. Do you think that helped you in creating colorful characters?
Elaine:I hadn't thought of it that way--but it's an interesting point. Characters definitely can emerge from the happy accidents of the magpie collection, placing this idea next to that one and seeing them begin to take on personality. In general, I think I work on my characters more from the inside out: I have an idea of what kind of person I want (proud, shy, angry) and a sense for what motivates him or her, then I develop or gather the external signs, speech, and actions that (hopefully) convey that person's reality for the reader. Costume is not a bad metaphor for this. I am clothing the unknowable, inner spirit with the garments that can best reveal and/or conceal what the story requires.
Kari: You write a Lady Blade Column on the craft of fantasy fiction. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Elaine:Alas, the fabulous 'zine that was running my column is shutting down, but I had a lot of fun. It was nice to have a deadline every two months that required me to produce new work. It also made me think more deeply about how I write and how I think about writing, especially fantasy writing, then be able to articulate that for my reader. I hope that people found it useful and thought-provoking.
Kari: You write fantasy books with romantic elements, but your latest book is framed as a mystery. Can you tell us about your latest release?
Elaine: I wanted to try a bit different approach to the structure of the fantasy story. The quest and the coming-of-age story are familiar to fantasy readers. So The Bastard Queen uses a mystery approach, a series of clues and red herrings that Fiona, the heroine, must uncover and piece together. There's still a romantic element, but it's not her prime motivator, at least at first. She's primarily a healer, so it's a medical mystery based on some research I was doing in medieval medicine for my other series, but it also involves arson, murder and conspiracy.
Kari: What's on the horizon for you? More fantasy books or maybe something in a new genre?
Elaine:My next release will be a dark historical fantasy, under a pseudonym which, alas, I'm not supposed to reveal. I have a new agent who's looking forward to marketing my contemporary romance novel set in Gloucester, and woking on my gritty romantic suspense. The dark historical series is going to take up much of my time, but I'm also researching for a sort of oriental steampunk world. . .
Kari: Any final pieces of advice for our fellow aspiring writers?
Elaine: The purpose of starting your first novel is to finish it--you can't get a good sense of how to write a novel until you've done the beginning, middle and end. It's easy to get distracted by a newer, more exciting idea, especially at that point about 70-100 pages in where you've introduced all the characters and conflict, and the initial energy of the piece tends to die down. Sometimes, you just have to push through that rough patch. Also, writer's block is often the way that my subconscious tells me that I've just taken a wrong turn with the text and I need to go back to the last bit and choose a new direction.
Kari Thanks so much for joining us Elaine! Can't wait to check out your books.