Please meet the Author of the beautiful book Compendium!
Alia, thank you for agreeing to an interview!
D: How traveling and being an attorney and a photographer have influenced your writing?
A: Sadly, being an attorney is a negative influence on creative writing, as legal writing is very different from creative writing. We lawyers are big fans of passive voice unfortunately. I do think that being an attorney has lent a slight formality to my writing, but that seems to work out because my novels are set in another world. My editor has helped town it down a lot as well by inserting contractions and other devices. It’s definitely something I have to keep an eye on. Travel has definitely influenced my writing. I take bits and pieces from places I’ve been and incorporate their features or culture here and there and draw some thoughts from my own imagination. Photography is the same. I love travel and nature photography, so it all swirls around in my mind when I write.
D: What books/authors inspired you to become author?
I read widely. I spent a lot of time with legal thrillers when I was a child (which ironically dissuaded me from going to law school for quite a while), suspense, romance, mostly whatever my mom had on her shelf. Lots of Grisham and Crichton and Koontz.I was also a huge fan of Star Wars novels, particularly the Timothy Zahn books, and Douglas Adams. I went through a period of reading a lot of Japanese manga (expensive hobby!). I love all the Harry Potter books. These days, I read a lot of classic speculative novels, like Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler and Margaret Atwood, who has been a huge inspiration to me. I also love Neil Gaiman and some Terry Pratchett. There’s always room for classics too. I finally read James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a young man a couple years ago. I think you have to appreciate all types of fiction, not matter what you write. I want what I write not to be formulaic in nature, and I feel like deep and broad reading is key to that
D: I learned that you have to complete twelve close readings which includes Octavia E. Butler’s Dawn, the first book in her Xenogenesis Trilogy. Why did you choose this book? Was it because of its dark, controversial theme?
A; I got advised to read Butler from one of my instructors, and I am SO glad that I did. I plan on reading the rest of the Xenogenesis trilogy as well. I really like it when speculative fiction (whether sci-fi or fantasy) tackles hard topics. There has been a lot of conversation about that with the Hugo Awards fiasco this year, but I firmly believe that speculative categories give authors a unique opportunity to tackle these tough themes and questions in ways that have the opportunity to resonate differently with readers. If you place someone in a foreign country, perhaps you have a chance of cutting through the natural biases that might be applied to an examination of our current society. That’s my hope anyway.
D: You are also reading the Atwood’s Maddaddam Trilogy, Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin and David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. Can you share with us what other books are you planning to read and why you are choosing them?
I finished my fourth close reading on Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, which will get posted on my blog eventually. I picked that one up at Powell’s because it was on sale and it seemed interesting. My whole MFA reading list is over 50 books, and you can see all the ones I’ve finished so far on my blog. They are a mix of current genre fiction, classic speculative fiction and general fiction, and some non-fiction. Since I finished Annihilation, I have read American Gods (Neil Gaiman), The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies (Scott Lynch), Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro), Alias Grace (Margaret Atwood), and a few others. I’m currently reading Rogues (ed. Martin) and Robber Bride (Atwood). In my queue are Colorless Tsukuro Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (Murakami), Gone Girl (Flynn), Shift (Hugh Howey), A Wizard of Earthsea (Le Guin), The Las Bad Man (July), and others
D: I have to say you had me at the cover! Compendium’s cover is so beautiful and compelling! Can you tell us what it means, what inspire it and who designed it?
A: The cover is actually a pictorial representation of the book itself, Compendium, which is the artificial intelligence that Mia discovers in the Archives of the Order. I had an idea of what it looked like in my mind, and my cover artist, who is a 3D artist by training, created the owl and lotus sigil based on my descriptions, rendered it in 3D and then created the book and meticulously created the Title text from scratch and the leaf circuitry based on my descriptions as well. Since the cover artist is my partner, I had pretty much complete access to the process, and the artist spent an inordinate amount of time on it. The covers for Ocularum and Clavis are actually completed already as well, but I won’t be revealing them for a while. I love the cover for Ocularum even more.
D: I found Compendium’s theme to be quite unique. How did you come up with this story?
A: I got the initial spark of inspiration from holding a Kindle Fire and thinking about how we have access to what is essentially unlimited information at our fingertips. I just had this flash of a person so outside the realm of having access to this technology suddenly interacting with it, but I wanted it to be an actual physical book form, not a screen. It gives it a tactile quality. From that instant flash, the idea came to have a plant-based electrochemically driven world. It wasn’t quite JK Rowling, in that I did a lot of free writing to release the story. It didn’t come to my fully formed.
D: How many more books will there be in this series?
A: I have planned four books in the current arc, but I do feel like Lumin has a lot of potential for more. I also want to write a novella about how humanity came to inhabit Lumin. The origin story is pretty exciting to me.
D: Please tell us about the experience of getting Compendium published and about the team behind it.
The team was me, my cover artist, Day Nadleeh Wade, my amazing editor Angela Brown. I had some writing instructors that were really valuable to me in the development, including Al Watt and Terri Valentine. My beta readers, including my aunt particularly. Because I’m a corporate attorney, I was able to do a lot of the corporate establishment myself. I also have to thank NaNoWriMo, because I did write a significant portion of the initial draft in the 2013 NaNoWriMo.
D: The world-building in Compendium is just wondrous! What advice would you give to aspiring author of Fantasy/Sci-fi genre?
The world building was something I was really worried about while I was doing it. I ended up culling a lot of exposition in my revisions, and I know there are some people who read Compendium and say that they feel like they missed something, but the world is so rich in my mind that I purposefully write as if I am the person in that world. There’s no reason Mia would wax poetic about the history of Lumin and her surrounding unless she had some reason to. So, I had her observe her surroundings as she was in them and think about them if that’s important to her current thoughts, and if it’s not, I tried to cull it, because I want people to feel like the character is real and not just a construct operating inside another world. I’ve had really positive feedback on the world building, so I’m super happy that I went in the directions that I did. It’s interesting, because in my MFA critiques, a lot of the other students say they want more description and more exposition, but that’s not really something the professors say, and I think it’s a problem with some fantasy/sci-fi authors. They love their world so much that they get bogged down in the minutia. As you think of it, free write it and save it, and weave only those bits that you need at that moment. I always have a repository for new and interesting world building. It will never run dry. I just have to pace myself on the reveal.
D: I’m an avid fantasy reader so I agree with your statement “One of the challenges of writing science fiction and fantasy novels is how can an author convey back story and world building in a way that’s engaging to the reader without large blocks of explanatory exposition.” For me Compendium falls waaay on the “showing” side of the “show, don’t tell” rule which is perfect for me! I absolutely loved it your style! However sometimes readers feel “thrown” into new worlds when not much explanation is provided. What advice would you give to fantasy writers to find this delicate balance.
A: It is hard, and unfortunately, no matter which way you go, there will be people who wish you had done it differently. For me, it was important that I was happy with what I produced. The moment I sit down at the keyboard, I know that what I write isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but it’s my novel, and I want to write a novel I want to read. I’m one of those people who is simultaneously blown away by the beauty and intricacy of J.R.R. Tolkien but then finding myself losing interest as he describes every leaf on a tree. I want enough detail to feel immersed in the moment but not so much that a scene is like a history book. I read for scenes and immersion. I think reading books like Ursula K. Le Guin or even new books like The Martian by Andy Weir can show writers how to creatively add information. Le Guin in Left Hand of Darkness was particularly masterful, by weaving diary entries of one character with historical logs of others and old tales, each chapter moved from log to character perspective to historical document and they fit together in a way that allowed the reader to understand the world. That’s probably the gold standard for world building in a way that isn’t an info dump. At least, until I find a better example. 🙂
Also, readers may not notice it, but I engineered the beginning of Compendium so that it brings Mia and Compendium (the character) together. Scenes alternate between Melia (the woman holding Compendium at the beginning of the story) and Mia until Compendium is placed on the shelf in one chapter and picked up by Mia in the next. I wanted that sense of transcending time and change and age until the point where Mia picks up the book–almost like a melding of the two together. It may not have been totally successful, but I have high expectations my readers. We are constantly told show don’t tell, and that’s something I have worked very hard to achieve.
Thanks for having me! It’s been a pleasure spilling my guts on my reading, writing style and Compendium!
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