Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Alex Landragin

Alex Landragin is a writer whose fiction explores place, migration and literature's formal potential. He has also worked as a copywriter, travel writer, journalist, librarian, indigenous community worker, wine merchant and musician.

Landragin was born in France and migrated to Australia as a child. He has previously resided in Marseille, Alice Springs, Paris, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Washington DC. He currently lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Landragin's debut novel is Crossings.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Crossings is a self-explanatory title by design. It came to me early and I could never come up with anything better. It refers directly to the novel’s central conceit of characters who can ‘cross’ from one body into another, and in that sense I like its simplicity and humility. But it can also be applied much more widely. It alludes to the novel’s unusual structure (it can be read conventionally as three separate stories or following an alternative sequence where the stories are interwoven into one whole). It’s also an invitation to the reader to consider crossing as a metaphor for such other things as history, love and literature.

What's in a name?

The backstory to Crossings takes place on a remote island, whose inhabitants can all cross from one body into another. Appropriation, especially of the colonial variety, is a major theme in the novel. Although there is much true history woven into the fictional story, after careful consideration of the ethics of the matter I decided to invent an island rather than set it on a real-life island. The island I invented I placed between Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands and called it Oaeetee as a nod to Polynesian culture. All the islanders’ names are Polynesian words sourced from various parts of Polynesia, from Tahiti to Hawaii – but otherwise the culture of Oaeetee, as described in the novel, is entirely the figment of my imagination. Writing about other cultures is necessarily tricky, particularly as a male European writer. I hold the Polynesian people and their culture in high esteem, as I do all indigenous peoples and their cultures, and I hope I’ve got the mix right.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I fell in love with the literature of exile and migration as a teenager, so in that sense not too much. But what would be astonishing to my nineteen year old self is that it would take more than two decades for me to realise that a story I was told at that time would make a good novel – and that it would end up being my debut novel.

In first year college, our teacher came in one morning and said he’d just read a marvellous story about an island whose inhabitants can cross from one body to another. In almost as many words, he continued, “And by the end of the story you don’t know who’s gone and who’s stayed behind.” That story blew my mind at the time, but I never did anything with it because it was someone else’s idea. Years later, my creative writing teacher told me he couldn’t remember the story he’d told us about at all. Fast forward to my fortieth year, when I was writing a blog called the Daily Fiction Project, writing and publishing a story every day. For story 151, running short of my own ideas, I wrote my own version of that apocryphal story – and the next day I realised the end of that story is the beginning of a much bigger, more interesting story. Thus Crossings was born.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings are easier, but only because I so rarely finish a project. The two beginnings and two endings of Crossings came to me at the start of the project and barely changed. It was an inspired project in many ways.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I’m mostly uninterested in writing semi-autobiographical fiction, but my personality and my life are smeared all over Crossings in ways only I and a select few others will ever be able to recognise. I am a migrant from multiple backgrounds (French and Armenian), from a family of recidivist migrants and refugees, and I drew heavily on this heritage in writing the novel.
Visit Alex Landragin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Crossings.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 3, 2020

Adele Parks

Adele Parks was born in Teesside, North East England. She has written twenty novels in twenty years; all hit the bestseller lists. She's been an ambassador for The Reading Agency and a judge for the Costa Book Awards, and is a keen supporter of The National Literary Trust. Parks lived in Italy, Botswana and London and is now settled in Guildford, Surrey, with her husband, son and cat.

Her latest book to hit the US is Lies, Lies, Lies.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Lies Lies Lies was without a title for the entire process of writing the book. That is unusual for me, and I think, for most writers. The book is about a marriage in freefall. Lies and deceptions pile almost as high as the empty spirit bottles that my character, Simon – an alcoholic - discards, I knew lies had to be in the title, to be er…truthful to the book.

My stumbling block was that there are so many books already in print with the word lies in the title. Every time I saw one on the bookstore shelf, my heart would sink a little, because I feared my novel would get lost. In the end my editor and I decided to take the bull by the horns. By bluntly entitling the work Lies Lies Lies, we own the concept of deception and drum home that there are going to be multiple twists and reveals.

Daisy and Simon who have been together for nearly twenty years; many of which were dominated by their yearning to start a family. We meet them when they have their longed-for daughter, and everything should be perfect now they are a happy family of three but because of the title the reader will doubt that concept from the get-go.

Simon is pushing for a second child, but Daisy is resistant to even trying for another. Again, the title will make readers question both his motivation and her resistance. Nothing is what it seems. Thwarted, Simon is drinking more than usual. One night at a party his drinking spirals out of control with horrific consequences. This little family can never be the same again, however the title forces the question: were they ever what was presented in the first place?

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

My teenage self was desperate to be a writer. She was already a weird combination of moody moroseness and stunning ambition so I think she would be unsurprised by the fact she had published this particular book; a domestic noir that hit the number 1 spot in the UK Sunday Times Bestseller List. The domestic noir would appeal to her pretty firm belief that families were hotbeds of anger, frustration and deceit and she would have expected bestseller positions and international success, because she didn’t have much of a grasp on the real world!

My adult self is significantly more surprised. I have been writing novels for twenty years, one a year for all that time. This is my first number one hit and I’ve been blown away by that. Also, I’m much less morose than my teenage self and have a greater understanding of families, who are not as desperate as they appear when you are a teenager. Yes, this novel is about lies and deceit and I do look at addiction in all its glorious gore but it’s also a book that values redemption.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I love writing endings! Endings inevitably have showdowns, confrontations and shocking reveals which are great to write; incredibly satisfying. It is so exciting; galloping towards the close of a book, knowing it’s nearly ready to be shared – initially with my editor but then much further afield. Getting the book out there so people can read and relate, be entertained and challenged, is my main motivator.

As I am a planner, I always know how my books are going to end so it is not a daunting process writing the ending. The beginning of a novel can feel overwhelming or a fresh opportunity, depending on my mood when I first sit down to write. The end of a novel is more reliable in terms of delivering me emotional satisfaction.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I am not at all like Daisy. I actually find her a little sanctimonious, I’m not a judgey person and I think she is. She’s also long-suffering; a quasi- martyr, that’s not my personality type either. I enjoy writing characters that are dissimilar to my own. It’s a perk of being a writer, you get to try being someone else.

Daisy’s entire self-definition is based around being a mother and she struggled for 15 years to conceive. That is torturous, watching all your friends have families, envying them, feeling alone, is hard. I conceived my son very easily and years before many of my friends had children so again my situation is different to hers. However, we are both mothers of only-children; I understood her satisfaction with her little family and her belief that celebrating what she has, rather than pushing for more is the way to go.

I am not an addict and so am not like Simon in that way, but writing him did make me look closely at my relationship with alcohol, we all have one even if you abstain, avoidance is a relationship.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I like having a song that is the soundtrack to the life of my main characters which I sometimes play when I’m writing a particular scene. Simon is the embodiment of Panic! At The Disco - "Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time" ... If you are not familiar with the lyrics, go and listen. I honestly think the songwriter nailed that precarious bizarreness when a night out tips from hilarious to out-of-hand messy, and then plunges into the surreal, wide-eyed, hungover, morning-after feeling. The chorus “Champagne, cocaine, gasoline And most things in between” sums up in one line the fact that excessive drinking is marked out by a lack of inhibitions, a total loss of equanimity or composure and a disregard for safety. Music is very inspirational. It’s not just the lyrics, it’s the beat, the riff too. Transportive.
Visit Adele Parks's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Jennifer Honeybourn

Jennifer Honeybourn is a fan of British accents, Broadway musicals, and epic, happily-ever-after love stories. If she could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, she’d have high tea with Walt Disney, JK Rowling, and her nana. She lives in Stratford, Ontario with her husband, daughter and cat in a house filled with books.

Honeybourn's new novel is The Do-Over.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Typically, I have a hard time coming up with titles, but I had The Do-Over before I even started drafting. I think it gives potential readers a pretty good idea of what to expect in the book, which is about a girl who finds a magical solution to re-do a choice she made in her past, only to face consequences she didn’t expect.

What's in a name?

Naming characters is one of my very favorite parts of writing. I like unusual names, names that aren’t widely used or have unique spellings. Emelia is the main character in The Do-Over and her love interest is Alistair. In previous books, I’ve used Marty, Quinn and Shelby. I don’t really go deep with names in terms of what they mean, I just go with what I like and what I want to live with for the six months or so it takes me to draft the book.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Endings are much more of a challenge for me. I’m always really excited when I start a new book and that usually carries me about to the halfway point and then it comes a bit more difficult. I am a planner so I try to have the plot figured out before I even start writing, but sometimes it surprises me and changes along the way. I would say I revise the back half of a book more than the front half.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I think there’s a little bit of me in all of my main characters. I don’t think I could understand them and their motivations as well if there wasn’t. I would love to write an origin story about a character who later in life becomes, or is perceived as, a villain (like Maleficent), so that would be a case where I’m not sure whether my personality would make it into the character (although who knows, maybe it would!).

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Movies and TV are a big inspiration for me. I love to binge-watch series on Netflix (just finished Orange is the New Black and I thought it ended perfectly). It’s a different form of storytelling, but it’s often helped me out of jams with my writing. I’ve learned a lot about good pacing and character arcs from well told series.
Visit Jennifer Honeybourn's website.

My Book, The Movie: Just My Luck.

The Page 69 Test: Just My Luck.

My Book, The Movie: The Do-Over.

The Page 69 Test: The Do-Over.

--Marshal Zeringue