SBBT Stop: Ysabeau Wilce

YsabeauYsabeau Wilce has written one novel for young adults–Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog–and a host of fabulous short stories. She’s currently hard at work on a sequel to Flora, as you’ll find out. Her dog Bothwell is a cutie-pie. She, basically, is awesome.

GB: Okay, the first question I always ask is about process. What’s your process like when you’re working on a novel? (You can start anywhere you like, getting the idea, actually beginning to write, trapped beneath a deadline, etcetera.)

YW: Um…process of writing. First, I drink coffee and cry about how I can never think of anything to write about. Then some magick first sentence drops like magick into my over-caffeinated brain and I sit down at the ole thinkpad and start typing frantically. At some point I run out of steam, coffee and inspiration, and then start back up with the crying again. More coffee. Time passes. Process repeats. If I have something to write about I can churn a whole lotta words out in a short time. Deadlines are good–they do tend to focus attention marvelously, but when the Well of Creativity is dry, or the Muse is off canoodling with other writers (that hussy!), then all the deadlines in the world won’t provide focus. Every once and a while, I’ll print what I’ve got so far, and do a small edit–when I’m stuck sometimes this shakes stuff loose–but I never do any major rewrites until the book is completely finished. And then I need some time between finishing and rewrite to process things, and maybe consider new things, and get some distance. I always assume each book/short story/whatever will be the last. Maybe the Muse won’t come back next time–maybe she loves somebody else better than me now…who knows…So far she has always sashayed back–but it’s best not to take her for granted! I’m sure she wouldn’t like that at all!

GB: One of the things I loved best about Flora Segunda was the sense of Califa’s history that infuses it–the way layers of the past keep resurfacing and affecting Flora in the story’s present. There’s a real sense that the history is alive, is changing and shifting, just like real history does depending when and who is seeing/telling it. You’re a historian too, so how did you go about constructing such a rich fictional history?

YW: I let my subconscious do it. All the history in Califa grows from the characters–the characters act in certain ways because things have happened to them, and as I learn more about them, the more these events come clear. Sometimes I do sit back and try to figure something out–I’ll think, hmmm where does Califa get its canned food from, or hmmm what about salt?…and then try to come up with an answer, which may or may not make it into a story. But I like to know these things. Economies and infrastructures are often overlooked in created worlds, and it drives me batty when Fantasylands have no obvious GDPs or manufacturing bases. (Which is a bit of a joke, really, because although my husband is an economist, in real life I never understand any economic stuff at all!)

GB: Flora also makes rich use of language, particularly in developing its own slang and patois. This is tied into the history question somewhat, because it too helps create a very fully realized world for Flora and company to inhabit. Did this come naturally as you were writing or did you put some time in before deciding how the characters would speak? Do you think language is an underused tool in fantasy writing?

YW: For the most part it comes naturally. Years of interest in language and words has given me a pretty big vocabulary, which comes out full force when I write. Though I am not musical by nature, I strive for a lyrical quality to my writing. Like Shakespeare, most of my stories are (oddly enough) meant to be read out-loud, and I do so to myself when I’m editing, making sure there are no clunky words to spoil the rhythm and flow. I do think that language is often underused or misused in fantasy writing. Misused when people who are not linguists try to make up languages–Tolkien got away with this because he was a professional, a man steeped in language who understood the rules of linguistics, and therefore was able to create a language that sounded like a language. Without that understanding, made-up languages just sound silly. Language is underused when fantasy (particularly commodity fantasy) becomes a tautology–a circular argument that refers only to itself, over and over again–using the same words/plots/characters endlessly. These fantasies influenced only by each other and their vocabulary is dead. That said, there are many fantasy writers that use language wonderfully: Gene Wolfe; John Crowley; Delia Sherman; Stephen King; Clark Ashton Smith; Jon Armstrong; Paul Witcover–to name just a few. Anyway, English is a vast and briny deep–why stay in the shallows? Sometimes I will need a better word than the normal one, and then I whip out the trusty Roget’s Thesaurus, which usually never fails me. If I’m really stumped I will cruise the pages of The Oxford English Dictionary or Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang, and there usually find what I’m looking for.

GB: You’ve also written a number of short stories. How is writing a story different for you than a novel, besides the obvious difference of length?

YW: The process is the same, except that I cry when I have to stop long before I’m actually done! Short stories are not my medium. I’m mostly interested in characterization and it’s hard to have both characterization and action in the same story and keep to your word count. Of course, some writers can do so wonderfully–but it’s a skill that I don’t have. I recently wrote a short story to word count and deadline, and found it an interesting experience. Novelists can be self-indulgent, but short story writers must economize. Learning economy is good, but sometimes you have to be lavish!

GB: Just a couple of teeny, teeny hints about what’s going to happen in the sequel? PUH-LEEZE with sugar and lemon on top?

YW: Hm…How can I resist such a sweet-and-sour plea? I suggest (but do not guarentee) that FLORA REDUX will contain: Loud rock bands. Revolutionary riots. Secret passages. Attacking tentacles. Many chores. Flynn. Oubliettes. A demonic bouncer. Magickal vortices. Udo’s new hat. A Bear Headed Girl. A shootout. A horsecar shaped like a dragon. An amusement park that turns dangerous after dark. The Huitzil Ambassador. Bugles. A hedge maze Tomb. The Warlord’s Birthday Party. An indoor snowstorm. Phosphorescent bullets. A Dæmon from the Abyss. Sneaking. A swan boat. Glamorous disguises. Bullies. The Perfume of Invisibility. Magickal sigils. A Plushy Pink Pig With Very Sharp Teeth. Waffles.

If the creeks don’t rise, FLORA REDUX will be out Spring of 2008.

GB: What are some books you’ve been loving lately?

YW: Well, I just finished Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand, which I adored. No other writer so brilliant captures the Artist’s longing for the Vision and the Void. I’m almost done with The Privilege of the Sword, Ellen Kushner’s neo-swashbuckler; a delightful book that contains many of the things I love best in the world: swords, cross-dressing, Tormented Boys, witty repartee, and close attention to culinary detail. After hearing Delia Sherman read from Changeling at Wiscon, I rushed to the dealer’s room and scored the last copy at the con–a wonderful romp through a mythologically infested New York, where the Wild Hunt rides through Central Park; The Great White Way is truly a Great White Way, inhabited by Runyonesque gryphons and chorus-lines; and a dragon guards the gold of Wall Street. I’m also currently rereading Archer in Hollywood by Ross MacDonald–a three novel anthology of the best cases of MacDonald’s hard-boiled detective Lew Archer. MacDonald is an writer of great economy, with a perfect eye for detail, and though his novels are often considered pulpy, I think he’s a fabulously economical stylist.

Visit today’s other SBBT sites:

Tim Tharp at Chasing Ray
Justina Chen Headley at Big A, little a
Dana Reinhardt at Bildungsroman
Julie Ann Peters at Finding Wonderland
Cecil Castellucci at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Bennett Madison at Bookshelves of Doom
Holly Black at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Justine Larbalestier at Hip Writer Mama
Kirsten Miller at A Fuse #8 Production

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