Friday, March 11, 2011
Brian Sherwin / Tonya Hoots interview with author Anne Bishop
Cover: Art by Larry Rostand -- Design by Ray Lundgren
Anne Bishop is a New York Times best-selling author. Bishop has steadily made her mark in the fantasy genre since the release of her first novel, Daughter of the Blood, in 1998. Since that time she has authored over a dozen novels, including the award-winning Black Jewels Trilogy. Her most recent novel is Twilight‘s Dawn, a book set in the Black Jewels world.
Anne Bishop is known for creating character driven stories that explore good vs. evil themes-- as well as the complexities of relationships-- in a way that is uniquely hers. The characters and worlds that she has created in her novels are detailed-- bold worlds where a reader can explore his or her own imagination page after page. That is no easy task considering that the fantasy genre is often burdened with mediocre concepts, dry characters, and familiar plots.
Due to Anne Bishop’s originality she is considered by many to be one of the most influential fantasy storytellers writing today. Bishop offered her time to answer a few questions about her writing process, influences, and advice that she has for emerging authors.
Brian Sherwin: Anne, your books are known for meshing themes of sensuality and violence-- The Black Jewels series is a perfect example. In your opinion, what do you think attracts readers to these extremes within the context of your novels?
Anne Bishop: I can’t speak for other people, but sensuality and violence were not an unusual mix in the historical romances I was reading twenty years ago. So for someone who liked fantasy, horror, romance and “women‘s fiction,” putting elements of those genres together to create a violent, sensual, gritty world wasn’t that big of a jump. I think the attraction is being able to take a ride with powerful, dangerous characters in a place that exists only in imagination--the supreme exotic locale. It is writing about the play of human emotions--the joys and triumphs as well as the heartaches and failures--in an otherworldly setting that intrigues me. Perhaps that is the same reason readers are drawn to the stories.
Tonya Hoots: What do you think attracts readers to the fantasy genre in general? Why, in your opinion, do people need fantasy within their lives?
AB: Fantasy contains boundless possibilities. It contains the delight--and the fear--of things that are Other. In a background where anything can happen, the things we fear can be given tangible form and be defeated (sometimes). We also have a chance to explore the human heart without the constraints, and pain, of the real world. Wonder exists within the boundaries of the genre, and that makes it fun.
BS: Your novels tend to place more of a focus on relationships and characters than on hard-line adventure that many fantasy authors tend to focus on. What interests you about solid character development and exploring the relationships of characters in general?
AB: While I enjoy straight action/adventure stories once in a while, I mostly read stories to tag along with characters I like while they’re having an adventure. If I can’t connect with the main characters or they don’t intrigue me in some way, the story isn’t as enjoyable. So basically I write character-driven stories because those are the kind of stories I like to read.
TH: With that in mind, of the characters you have created within the context of your stories which do you tend to associate the most with-- and why? Do you have favorites?
AB: I identify with all the characters to some degree, good and bad. I have to see with their eyes and live in their skins in order to tell their parts of the story. Some days that is a very uncomfortable thing to do. Favorites? Daemon Sadi from the Black Jewels books. Sebastian from the Ephemera books. Morag from the Tir Alainn books.
BS: Tell us about your writing process. For example, when working on a new novel do you follow a specific formula for the progression of the novel or do you write in a more loose-- dare I say sporadic-- nature? Do you start out with a complex set of ideas to draw upon or do you keep things simple during the early stages of a novel?
AB: I would describe my writing process as happy accidents combined with rummaging through the mental attics combined with playing in a fenced-in yard. In other words, an image or idea will intrigue me enough to wonder about it or want to play with it. Then I let that image or idea float in the brain, attracting other images and ideas. Some things fit; some things don't.
When that world or place gains sufficient “weight,” I begin to make conscious decisions and choices about how things work--magic systems, character personalities, what the land looks like. I decide what rules the world, people, magic, etc. have to follow (and that I, as the storyteller, have to follow). Then I start telling the story to see what happens because I learn at least half of what I need to know about the world as I tell the story.
My stories are very organic and can take months or even years to develop, but once I reach the point where it‘s time to write, I write four days a week and have a set quota of words that needs to be met every week in order to make my deadline. The other days I spend taking care of mundane tasks, Life, and writing business, as well as gathering information I’ll need for the next scenes I’ll be writing. Basically, once I start a story, I’m always in the story to some degree, even when I’m not at the keyboard.
TH: Do you prefer to write a series-- such as The Black Jewels trilogy --or stand alone novels? Furthermore, can you discuss some of the complexities you face when writing a series as compared to writing a stand alone novel? Is there a difference in your writing approach from one to the other? Which is more challenging in your opinion?
AB: I’ve never given any thought to the difference between series and stand alone. All stories need a character, a place, and a conflict; they need a beginning, a middle, and an end--or at least a resolution of the secondary story arch if the big arch spans several books. So I write stories. Some of them are 1000 words long; some require three books.
My approach to building the story up to the point of writing isn’t any different. The main difference is that a novel is a marathon, a pouring out of creative energy over months to go from first sentence to last. Something smaller, like a novella, provides some resting time before the next project and can be less demanding physically.
BS: Can you discuss some of your influences? Furthermore, do you draw inspiration from visual art or other forms of self-expression such as music?
AB: There were a lot of early influences. Rod Serling, Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, and Jane Austen. The Black Stallion books by Walter Farley, and the Anne of Green Gables books by L.M. Montgomery. Andre Norton’s books showed me that stories could take place beyond Earth and could be about people who are not from our world. And there were the Brothers Grimm and Bullfinch’s Mythology. In general, every book I’ve ever read has taught me something about Story.
As for inspiration from other forms, pieces of my worlds have been shaped because of a photograph or picture I saw in a book or magazine. Tir Alainn began because of a cloud formation that looked like the cliffs of another land sitting on the horizon. The fire dance in The Invisible Ring was inspired by a
Loreena McKennitt song. There is no rhyme or reason for what produces the vibe that translates into Story, but when something does tug at me, I pay attention.
TH: What are you working on at this time? Can you give us some insight into your future goals?
AB: I’m finishing up the third book in my Ephemera world. After I turn it in, I’ll see what ideas are ready to bloom into stories.
BS: Finally, do you have any advice for authors who are having difficulty getting published? Furthermore, do you have any advice for developing characters that readers will associate with? Do you have any words of wisdom for emerging authors in general?
AB: Patience and persistence are writing tools just as much as the ability to create characters and plot. Keep writing and submitting your work. Keep working to improve your skills with every story you write. Learn how to do the nuts and bolts of your craft so that you can focus more on creating the characters and story--and getting what you see in your head on the page. It can take years of effort to break into the professional market, so first and always, write because you want to write.
You can learn more about Anne Bishop and her novels by visiting her personal website at www.annebishop.com
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin & Tonya Hoots