Saturday, 18 December 2010

RF Long interview

This should have been posted a couple of days ago- so apologies to all (especially Ms Long!).
We met the lovely Ms Long at the magnificent Octocon convention in Dublin earlier this year, so we thought it only fair to share the pleasure with all of you too...

Tell us a bit about yourself?

By day I'm a librarian specialising in rare books and religious subject matter. The rest of the time (actually all the time) I'm a mother of two, wife of one, catwrangler who tried to crowbar in some writing whenever she can. I like to cook.

How long have you been writing? What got you started?

I started very young. Certainly by secondary school I remember having a notebook containing my the "wonderful" novel confiscated because I was writing under the desk in my German class. Never did learn German aside from the word Sehenswürdigkeiten.

I read voraciously as a child. Once I'd gone through the entire junior section of the local library, the librarians there gave me adult tickets (possibly just to get rid of me, possibly they knew I'd end up as a librarian myself, who knows?) and I started in on what I could find there. At some point I must have objected to the end, characters or entire plot of a book and decided I would write my own. I wrote in copybooks. When I filled one, I would tape another to the back and keep going. I'm not sure these stories ever had endings, but they did have fantastic covers (doodled by yours truly with glitter & sequins to enhance the wonder).

What or who helped/ or inspired you to write?

Loads of people over the years. My family, my friends, my husband who is a fantastic support and my alpha reader! We both come from families who read and love books. I've had tremendous support from fellow writers. It's one of those professions where people really do help each other out, and are always ready to offer advice or just an ear to moan into. I have a particular group of friends who write and we form a general support and crit group together. We bounce ideas off each other, help with brainstorming, talk about markets and generally chat about life. Writing can be really solitary so its good to have people who really understand that. Twitter has been a fantastic revelation for me. I'm thoroughly addicted and making new friends all the time - writers, readers, publishers and everyone really. I find it fantastic. I've got stuck and had questions answered immediately, gathered opinions and met a whole bunch of local writers too.

I think we learn all the time, and grow as writers all the time. I joined the RNA this year and it has been a wonderful help, especially the summer conference. The SFF community in Ireland are also wonderfully supportive and I don't know where I'd be without going to Pcon, Octocon and Wexworlds this year. So much fun!

Everything helps me write. I'm inspired all the time -- usually too many ideas. Music, images, storeis, urban legends, films, other books, non-fiction, documentaries -- anything can spark off a story. I try to remain open to everything.

What are you working on now?

At the moment I am doing edits for my 2012 release from Dial Books for young readers MAY QUEEN, which is a dark fantasy set in the Realm of Faerie, where a girl in search of her lost brother finds that the origin of all our fairytales lies in sacrifice, blood and betrayal.

I'm also working on its sequel FOREST KING, and a new story which is a Space Opera with a steampunky vibe (although not really steampunk)--its a tough one to describe. And one or two other things. :) I never end up working on only one thing at a time.

What is your biggest frustration as a writer?

Time. Finding it, using it well, running out of it. Because I work and have a family its really important to keep myself working and to use the writing time I have to the best of my ability.

And that moment when you're working on one thing, and something gorgeous and shiny appears from the back of the queue going "look at me! look at me!". It can be very hard to keep focused. (Although I do try. Honest!)

What is or has been a particular highpoint for you?

Selling MAY QUEEN to Dial. It was one of those marvellous situations where my editor Jess Garrison got what I was trying to do with the book, understood it and loved it. The experience so far has been something of a whirlwind and its so exciting with ideas bouncing all over the place, levels of meaning and understanding getting revealed as we work together and the book just shaping up to be better than I ever imagined. I'm one of those very strange people who adore the editing stage. I've been very lucky with my editors, first Deborah Nemeth who was with Samhain and is now with Carina and now Jess. I've learned so much from them and they make the experience so much fun. It can be nerve-wracking, and I have been known to pout on occassion but the bottom line is that what we do makes the story better. So I'm all for that.

Another was seeing SONGS OF THE WOLF come out in print last week (7th December). The first story THE WOLF'S SISTER was my first sale to Samhain and come out in 2008. It was just so amazing to see it again, like reuniting with an old friend. It also made me very grateful for everything that has happened since. I've been very lucky.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to become a writer?

Be prepared to work hard. Writing is a business as well as an art. Write as often as you can, as much as you can, but remember that there will always be words that you'll have to throw away. But if you don't write, find the time to write and make yourself use that time to write, you will not produce anything. So long as you write, you're a writer. I think its a famous Nora Robers quote "you can't fix a blank page." So basically if you want to write, go and write. No one else can tell your story the way you can.

What's the best advice (about writing) you've ever had?

Two things and they are quite low level but they help every time.

When I'm trying to get right into the mind of a character and see the world through their eyes, when I'm trying to put the reader inside them, I try to engage all the senses - describe not just what is seen, but also what is felt, sounds, smells (very powerful one) and the emotional response to each of these things. How does the emotional response feel? What similies can best describe that sensation and what is a new way of saying it rather than those we hear all the time? There's a difference between saying "a chill ran down his spine" to saying something like "the cold worked its way between his vertebrae with inisidious fingers."

The other was something Sarah Duncan said about drafts of a manuscript and I've tried to apply this at every stage - to look for an item with "pzaz" on every page, preferably several. This can be a piece of description, or a line of dialogue, or a reveal of character or plot but a key, shinging moment that stands out. In the same way look at each page and try to make absolutely certain that nothing will stop the reader from turning the page and reading on-- in a sense, a mini cliffhanger, a question or something intriguing enough near the end of every page. Keep your readers interested at all time. Which also ties in with not pulling them out of the story -- remove everything that doesn't fit or makes them go "huh?" from a badly worded section, a typo or something that simply doesn't make sense. A reader is offering you their time and attention and is willing to suspend disbelief to engage with your words. So don't let them down.

What are the challenges of writing in a 'fantasy' setting?

Combining complex and detailed worldbuilding with a compelling story so as to avoid infodumping all over the place. This ties in with the idea of the agreement between writer and reader. As readers we want to experience as many aspects of a fantasy world as possible, but often there is more than could ever be included in a story. Just as with research, there are many things that the author may know about their world which are not necessary for the reader to know in order for the story to progress. In fact, over-explaining, or putting in too many details can end up boring the reader. A story should always progress forwards. Every time we stop to fill in the history of a kingdom or the reasons for a particular custom the story could stop dead. Even wose, it could start moving backwards!

Did your education help or hinder the work you do now?

I think it has helped very much but then I was lucky enough to be able to combine a number of interests together in my studies. I studied English in the University of Aberdeen and was able to take things like Celtic Civilisation and History of Religions as well. The English course allowed me to incorporate diverse elements such as early literature, film and media studies, different forms of story telling and generally indulging my interests.

As I said above, I have always loved to read, so research isn't a chore (especially when it's something I'm interested in), and a major part of librarianship revolves around the ability to look things up and find out details for people. Working with rare books is often like a treasure hunt in itself.

What is your writing work regime if you have one?

I work Monday to Friday 9-5 in the library and then pick up the kids so my writing regime has to fit in around that. Generally I try to do something every day. When we first get home and I get supper for the kids, I am usually sorting out emails etc. It has led to some burnt dinners, I can tell you. :)  Once the kids are in bed, I try to write for about an hour if I am in the middle of something. I am blessed with the need for noise when writing - I think because the library is quiet and so I associate silence with that work - so I can still be relatively social and productive in the evenings. I often write longhand when I go to bed. I find I can tease out ideas and scenes better with a pen and paper than on the screen. Editing is a combination - I do a lot of it on the laptop, but then print out the manuscript to go through in detail with a pen in hand, then type everythg up again. So basically my writing regime is whatever it takes to get the job done. Bum in seat, pen in hand/laptop open. :)

What else other than writing is important in your life?

My family and friends. Good food, nice wine. Holidays. Visits to archeological and heritage sites, that sort of thing (ok, kind of researchy but still I love doing it). Books! All kinds of books. 

Where can people find out more about you? 

Twitter: @RFLong

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