● What projects are you working on at the present?
Right now, I’m trying hard to finish my novel Anika Takes The Long Way Home Up Soul Mountain. It’s a follow up to my previous novel To Have Loved & Lost, which came out at the beginning of November 2016.
Anika is more of a spin-off than a sequel; it follows one of the side characters from To Have Loved & Lost into the future, about fifteen years after the end of the events in THL&L (two years after the epilogue). I should have finished Anika’s story back in February or March, but then my life took an unexpected turn, so life has sort of derailed writing for the past few months. It’s ironic, because Anika is a story about someone’s mid-life crisis, so I find it fitting that my own life would become stressful and weird at the same time as writing a story about someone else’s crisis.
● Even though it sounds like you didn’t expect it when you started the novel, has it been cathartic to write about a mid-life crisis as you go through one?
Yes, writing is always cathartic to me. I’m pretty sure it’s the way I self-medicate! Some people drink, some people eat, some people exercise. I write.
● What about your other book, To Have Loved & Lost? Did that one reflect your own life, too?
In a certain way, yes. To Have Loved & Lost is about two women who’ve both lost their partners in tragic accidents. So even though it’s a romance, it’s also a lot about grief and how we process grief in both healthy and unhealthy ways. And it did reflect my own life. Not in the sense that I’d lost a partner or someone I was close to – I have been fortunate that most of the death I’ve experienced in my life hasn’t been of the tragic variety. But I was grieving in other ways; it’s complicated and personal, but basically I was grieving the loss of my own love life, along with the loss of other things in my life, and my own grief process definitely came through in – and was aided by – writing To Have Loved & Lost.
● What do your plans for future projects include?
Once Anika’s story is finished, I have to finish a young adult trilogy, but after that, I want to get to work on a novel I’m currently calling Apart. It’s another book about tragedy and grief – don’t know why this keeps coming up in my work! – but this time, the reader isn’t going to know exactly what the main character is grieving until about halfway through the novel.
I kind of know how I want Apart to “feel”; it should be a little like that unsettling feeling of walking down the stairs into the basement in the dark while you fumble for the light switch. You’re not scared exactly, but you’re not comfortable either. Have you heard the podcast S-Town? I want this book to feel a little like that.
The other thing about Apart is that it’s my ode to the South. I grew up in small-town Georgia and have spent most of my adult life in Atlanta and the Carolinas. It’s an uncomfortable thing to be an obviously gay woman in the South, but at the same time, there’s something about the deep South – the way it sounds, the way it smells, the cadence of people’s speech – that I just can’t quite resist. I’d like to bring some of that out in Apart.
● Have you written other stories set in the South?
Kind of. One of my two young adult trilogies is set in rural Arkansas, in the Ozark mountains. Arkansas is South-ish, though the Ozark mountains are sort of their own thing. But the kids in the story are working class, small-town kids – the type of people I went to high school with myself. My dad’s family is from that part of the country, so it felt natural to write.
Also, To Have Loved & Lost is roughly set in North Carolina, but the location doesn’t really come across in that story. It could be anywhere.
● What period of your life do you find you write about most often?
I find that whatever I’m going through at the moment definitely bleeds into what I’m writing. Have you ever seen the movie Shakespeare in Love? It had a young William Shakespeare running around after a girl, and throughout the movie there are these little jokes for Shakespeare nerds, where other characters say things to him like, “never a lender nor a borrower be” and so forth that are all lines from Shakespeare’s most famous plays. Sometimes my writing makes me laugh, because it’s just like Shakespeare in Love – it’s like my subconscious mind is sucking up the things around me, processing them, and then spitting them back out as fiction. I’ve fictionalised people I’ve met, situations I’ve been in, and sometimes entire conversations.
● Summarise your writing process. Are you a plotter? A pantser?
Definitely both. When I first started writing, I wrote by intuition alone. But I have to confess that I hardly knew what I was doing. When I look back on my first novel, I grimace and think, Learning curve! Now I understand how we are hard-wired as Westerners – and maybe just as humans – to hear and process stories in a certain way. We actually want familiar archetypes, and, to a certain extent, tropes. These days, I try to plot pretty thoroughly. It makes the writing itself much easier.
With that being said, I still find that my characters take the story in directions I didn’t always expect or plan for. So although I make a thorough outline at the beginning, once I actually sit at the computer and begin to write, sometimes things happen that I didn’t plan. That’s kind of fun, though – makes me feel like it’s my characters’ story, and I’m just following along behind them.
● Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?
Not really. I’m pretty vanilla. I will say that I like to be outside as much as possible – my version of hell would be working in a windowless office cubicle – but mainly I just sit down with my laptop and start typing away.
I will say this: Showering, walking, and driving are probably the three best places for me to get inspiration and tease out story ideas. I’ve plotted entire novels on road trips before!
● How do you name the characters in your books? Do you choose names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?
How I name characters depends upon the character. The names of main characters are important to me, because I want the name to fit the personality of the character. For example, for my first novel, which is a young adult novel with a sort of superhero bent to it, I wanted the main character to be a real ‘everyman’, an average guy. So I named him Jon, because what could be more commonplace than that, right? I was having trouble coming up with his last name. At the time, I was watching Spider-Man on mute, so Jon became Jon Parker, after Peter Parker.
As for name-choosing resources, I really like the name generator in the software I use to write my novels, which is called Scrivener. It will spit out a list of 50 or 100 names to choose from, based upon settings you give it. I use that a lot for minor characters whose names I don’t really care much about.
● Do you write full-time or part-time?
Now that is a good question! I used to write only part-time, but I quit my job recently, not because I wanted to write full-time, but for other reasons. So I’m giving myself the next six months to really make a go at writing full-time. My results over the next few months will determine whether or not I write full-time or part-time going forward.
● If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play your characters?
Okay, I love this question. Hmmm. . . Well, I don’t know, but I can tell you who could play just about anyone: Tatiana Maslany. Orphan Black is one of my favourite shows, but it’s not as good as Tatiana herself. I think she could play just about anything or anyone!
● What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?
I have two, and they’re actually series rather than individual novels. The first is Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. OMG, I love these books! They tried to make a movie out of them and did a poor job, because the books are actually kind of dark and creepy and quite complex, and the producers tried to simplify it down into something that would be mainstream enough to sell. In so doing, they wrecked it, and I think gave people the wrong impression – that the books are as bad as the movie.
My other favourite under-appreciated series is Marie Lu’s Legend series. I don’t understand why the Divergent trilogy hit all this Hollywood, box office success, while the Legend series hasn’t even been made into movies. Divergent was so-so at best; Legend was way better.
● What is your favourite childhood book?
I can only pick one? I’m sure that if I thought about it, I could come up with dozens, but the one that made me want to write was Robert A. Heinlein’s Tunnel In The Sky. (See what a sci-fi nerd I am?) It’s a sort of obscure book, so briefly: A group of young inter-planetary rangers gets sent to a wild, inhospitable planet for their final exam, but something goes wrong and instead of being retrieved in only a week, they are left out there to survive on their own for months. I liked this book so much that I read it two or three times, and I didn’t want it to end, so I started writing my own sequel, just so I could keep reading the story. I was about ten when I wrote my ‘sequel’, but I probably wrote maybe fifteen or twenty pages before I got tired of it and gave up. Not bad for a fifth grader.
● What did you find most useful in learning to write? What was least useful or most destructive?
The most useful tool I’ve discovered is the four-part plot structure. By far, this has helped me to improve my plotting over the past few years more than anything else.
As for the most destructive. . . hmm. I think what slows me down the most is when I stop writing for myself and the love of writing and start writing with an eye to what other people are going to think. Because THAT, of course, invites the self-doubt gremlins. The voices in your head that say, “This is stupid. No one’s going to like this. Where did you come up with this idea? You think this is compelling? Ha! So NOT compelling.”
● Name five favourite movies. Why?
Oh. . . that’s tough. . . Only five, huh? How about (in no particular order):
American Beauty – This used to be my all-time favourite movie. I don’t know if it still is, but it’s definitely a beautiful story about life and growing up and growing older and the dark side of the suburbs. I also just love the way the film and the story are put together.
The whole Lord Of The Rings series – Oh my, Elijah Wood is so good in these movies. It’s more than just a fantasy to me, and of course it’s the archetypal hero’s quest, but more than that, The Lord Of The Rings shows this incredible courage of Frodo as he makes this crazy journey out of the familiar and into the very heart (or eye!) of darkness. Meanwhile, there’s the ultimate bestie Samwise, carrying him the last few yards, and the ultimate self-destructive victim, Gollum. These movies actually make me cry.
Those are the two (or four, if you count all three Lord Of The Rings movies) that I can think of. I can think of a whole ton of honourable mentions – Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Dr. Strangelove, Memento, Fight Club, Spirited Away. . . but it’s hard to isolate one or two and call them influential favourites.
● What’s your favourite TV show of all time, and why?
It would come down to three: Twin Peaks, Lost, and The Walking Dead. For Lost and The Walking Dead, the reason is character development. No other shows I can think of develop their characters like those. As for Twin Peaks, it’s just a weird, quirky show. I love the blend of the real and the supernatural, and I can hardly think of a character on television better than Special Agent Dale Cooper.
● Tea or coffee?
● Name three things you think will become obsolete in ten years:
Traditional publishing, Barnes & Noble, Shopping malls.
● Have you ever jumped out of a plane?
Hell, no. I don’t even like planes. Why would I jump out of a perfectly good one?
● What’s the funniest movie you’ve ever seen?
Airplane. “Excuse me, stewardess? I speak jive.”
● Do you dream? Do you have any recurring dreams or nightmares?
When Glee was still on, and Cory Monteith was still alive (RIP), I used to dream that I was Finn Hudson. *shrug * Maybe I shouldn’t admit that. I also dream about the zombie apocalypse with some regularity. Because I am a Walking Dead addict.
● Characters often find themselves in situations they aren’t sure they can get themselves out of. When was the last time you found yourself in a situation that was hard to get out of, and what did you do?
Oh, Lord. Truth is stranger than fiction, let me tell you. When I get out of my crazy situation, I’ll let you know.
Eliza Andrews writes contemporary lesbian fiction. Her work is somewhere between ‘contemporary fiction’ and ‘romance’. If her books were made into movies, they’d probably be classified as ‘dramas’ but with critical romantic subplots. Her first lesfic book, To Have Loved & Lost, was a #1 best-seller in several Amazon categories for about three consecutive weeks, and has over 170 positive reviews (a high number for the genre).
Eliza also writes young adult fiction as R. A. Marshall. These YA books are somewhere in between science fiction and fantasy – perhaps best described as ‘science fantasy’. R. A. Marshall has two inter-related trilogies: Guardians Of The Portal and Lost Children.
Author page on Amazon