S. C. Viola
Q.) There are reasons authors choose to write in a certain genre. For you, what is there about fantasy fiction?
A.) I've always lived in my imagination. When I and my sisters and three girl cousins were little, members of the family read copiously to us from fairy tale books that I believe were part of a French collection -- The Gray Fairy Tale Book, the Violet Fairy Tale Book etc. -- that probably helped to nurture a love of the otherwordly, the magical and heroic, tales set in an imaginary time and place. I don't think I could write very convincingly about the mundane or prosaic, the gritty, slice-of-life contemporary scene. My reading, however, is wide enough to cover all kinds of literature.
Q.) "Daughter of the Moon" is a huge, far-ranging novel in its scope. There is a totality of elements besides the strictly fantasmal: romance, a descriptive historical content, if only created by the author, a hint of what passes for metaphysics and philosophical insight. Your imagination cannot have been the only fertile ground for inspiration. What special research did you do to bring all the elements together?
A.) The first area of research for the author is what we all can draw on: experience, the ability to create a believable story. The basis of any good plot should be, first of all, the characters involved, their conflicts and their solutions to their problems. The writer of fantasy, as with every genre, tackles the challenges of the human condition within the special conventions of the literature. After that, the sky's the limit. You become God and make up your own world. Of course you sometimes need to take models from the real world. For instance, among the people we meet in "Daughter of the Moon" is a barbaric warrior race. I wasn't all that versed in pre-industrial waponry and sword play, so I had some reading to do. To impart the proper cultural atmosphere, I borrowed, sparingly, from elements of the Northern European Iron Age, among others. History long removed from our memory is a treasure trove of information that can be adapted to the mythos of a faux-world. To the realism you then add the fantastic; the princess, the sorcerer, the hero, a dragon, or whatever the devises of the plot, with some expectation that it will ring true.
Q.) You say the sky is the limit when it comes to writing fantasy and imply that the need for research is minimal. Does that make fantasy fiction any easier to write than fiction that has to hew strictly to the known facts?
A.) You would think so, but far from it. You're trying to bring to life something that doesn't exist. If you're writing a crime novel, you probably need to mention only once that Detective Stark is an experienced, street-smart professional in his mid-forties, steely-nerved and inured to the more unpalatable aspects of his job. He reports for work to a crumbling brick building in one of the seedier presincts on the East Side, where life is raw. Or maybe he's luckier and has a nice office in a modern chrome and glass building only two blocks from down-town City Hall. You don't have to say much beyond that because we're so familiar with detectives operating in their special millieu, if for no other reason than we read the papers, have access to zillions of books and a high concentrate of movies and TV on the subject. Our heads are filled with images of detectives and the police stations that if only peripherally are part of our everyday lives.
By and large, the author of fantasy is starting from scratch. How do you create a whole new imaginary world without being too heavy-handed with endless descriptive narrative? Of course, with fantasy, descriptive narrative is essential, but you should rely as much on dialogue and action. You should strive to see the fantasy world through the eyes of the characters. Their speech and actions can reveal just as much about them and even give hints as to the type of dress, the habitat and other components the author introduces to make up a credible world. You have to keep reinforcing the novelty, the fantasy of your world with just the right touch of disclosure and revelation so the story doesn't bog down with text book details, and that isn't easy.
Q.) Was there something you found particularly challenging in writing DOM?
A.) I find writing challenging, period. Small things bugged me. I had trouble creating a make-believe language translating logically into proper names, place names, etc.. The characters come from different lands, and they speak different languages. The sounds and spellings of one tongue should read as distinct from another. And each should be homogenous within itself. You can't have the hero's name sounding fairly Scandinavian, say, when he lives in a country or town with a name that comes across as Asiatic. You want short names for the characters that are easy to remember and pronounce; no jawbreakers that might even look good in print but sound ridiculous when you say them. Same with the nammerisms, expressions and customs of your fantasy people. They will need to be addressed with simplicity and uniformity. Coming up with this kind of consistency is much harder than it sounds.
Q.) Tell us about the creative urge that resulted in "Daughter of the Moon".
A.) For many years, before I actually could sit down to write anything, it had been taking shape in my mind. The first time I did get in front of the computer, with Page One staring blankly back at me, I wondered in a panic how one gets the flood of creative juices flowing. I would guess that a good many writers will confess that they get a tummy-knotting sensation of helplessness upon contemplation of The First Stroke of the Pen and Hopefully Away We Go. I've written a number of short stories and started and never finished more than a few novels, but there was something urgent about committing DOM to the printed page. I knew it would be a big job, so I prudently acquired a muse. She is green with webbed feet and a goofy smile on her amphibian face. Her diaphanous tutu, wings and star-tipped wand make her a fairy godfrog. She never fails to loosen me up with a chuckle and a reminder that I shouldn't take the process too seriously. I will say, once I started, the ideas came, not smoothly and never without disgruntlement over the unintended plot turns along the way that resulted in a lot of backtracking and rewrite. Then by some miracle I wound up with a beginning, a middle and an end to a rather complex story. When you're really into it, the plot can unwind like a movie in your head. I've even dreamed, sometimes, what's going to happen next. When I was in sync with the process and not allowing anxiety and impatince to interfere with the flow, DOM actually wrote itself. Generally, though, for this writer, the mechanics of writing -- expressing your ideas coherently as you sit in front of a bright screen on which the words unfold that mock you with what you feel is pure gibberish -- is tedious and tortuous. But, yes, somehow fun, too. One derives pleasure from the final product. And surely whatever financial rewards might be in the offing.
Q.) They say that a book is a revelation of the author. Would you say that the principal character, The Ata'Lan Princess Illat, is a good reflection of you?
A.) (Laughs.) Seriously, maybe not technically but stereotypically, on some level or other, all women fancy themselves a beautiful, irresistible if somewhat wayward young creature a la Scarlett O'Hara, with the inner strength of a stout, independent female force like Kate Hepburn. To be beset upon by unimaginable difficulties only signifies that in the end, as the Child of Fortune, you are destined to make it to the very last page intact.
Q.) Did you draw on any real-life persons when creating Illat's two loves? Or are they, too, perhaps, essentially facets of you psyche?
A.) Maybe the figments of my wishful thinking! It's fun to create men as women kind of prefer them. The maternal instinct in every woman appreciates, even in the strongest men, a little vulnerability they can mother. The he-man Allak's obvious hunkiness is forgiven because he's all too human with his faults and foibles and the aura of personal tragedy that surrounds him. The Princess' cousin, the dutifully traditionalist Lord Z'hanh, is all calm outer acceptance. Both seem in command but have their demons, and of course Illat is guilty of exacerbating their vulnerability. Not only are the individuals of the piece conflicted within themselves but equally conflicted with each other, and the Princess' eventful transit through the lives of the two men causes all the problems.
Q.) Do you think you achieved what you were hoping to, creatively speaking, with DOM?
A.) I'm afraid to read it, now that I haven't worked on it for some time. I think it was H. Rider Haggard, the author of Victorian mystical romances ("She" -- who must be obeyed), who dogged his publisher on the very day his books were going to print to make last minute changes. We're never satisfied. We nurture our first novel as if it were the fruit of our womb. I suspect that with subsequent books I'll get over it.
Q.) Are we correct in saying that readers of DOM are meant to experience what is a calculated bit of confusion and let-down at the end of the book?
A.) Exactly. While the book ends logically enough, there are too many unresolved questions for anyone to be totally satisfied. So I invite those who really want to know how things ultimately turn out to look for the future release of the sequel, "The Blood of Kings", which will bring the saga to its conclusion.
Q.) You must have plans for books that take you beyond these two fantasy novels?
A.) Thank you for your faith in my durability. I'm also very fond of historical romances. Maybe I'll try my hand at a novel set in ancient Rome or Egypt, my spiritual homeland . . . of course such an endeavor would call for research, wouldn't it?