Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

April 25, 2014

A Blog Hop!

Sometimes a girl just doesn’t know what to blog about, when out of the wide, limitless blue comes a friendly blogger-writer-friend with a golden baton that they will pass on to you, inscribed not only with the solution to all of your blogging problems, but permission to talk about yourself.

The reclusive bookseller in her natural habitat.

Really? May I? Simon McNeil (author of The Black Trillium, forthcoming from Brain Lag Publishingsays yes! It goes like this: because I have been tagged by Simon, I will answer the questions he has laid out for me. At the end, I will pass the baton to three more writers, who will answer similar writerly-questions which I will ask them. The pedigree of this blog hop is a good one: Simon was tagged by Adam Shaftoe, Adam by Matt Moore, Matt by Marie Bilodeau, Marie by Eileen Bell…. it’s possible this goes back to the birth of the universe if you want to follow it there, and Godspeed to you if you do.

With no further ado, here are the questions Simon put to me!

1) What book most affected your decision to begin writing? Why that book?

Like a lot of writers, I was one of those who decided to “be a writer” when I was maybe 7 years old, so I don’t have the clearest recollection of what story might have inspired this choice, if there was one. One of my first “long” works was a “sequel” to The Princess Bride (actually just the movie told over again, only starring me as the Dread Pirate Roberts’ BFF and co-adventurer) which I wrote when I was 8.

When I ran away from home and eventually enrolled in Celtic Studies in university, though, it was because of Charles de Lint. His Newford books in particular. I wanted to live those – writing something similar came a close second. I wrote dozens of first chapters that never went anywhere. Living them was a much greater success – but that’s another story.

I didn’t REALLY finish a book until they invented NaNoWriMo and I decided to jump in and pull a Harry Potter. I wanted to write meaningful, socially-conscious kid’s fantasy with a strong political/ecological message. And I think I did. I don’t know that this means Harry Potter got me seriously writing, though. It was a combination of things.

2) How do you deal with difficult protagonists in your writing and reading? Is it possible to bridge the gap between “I don’t like them” and “I don’t care about them?”

I tend to work with a close, limited POV with my protagonists, and the reader gets a lot of interior dialogue. My hope is that even if you don’t especially like the narrator, you will understand her. She makes her fears, motivations, justifications and expectations abundantly clear.

I don’t use difficult protagonists, though, unless they have a flaw which is meant to expose a particular point I am trying to make with the piece. You don’t need to like them in order to see how their politics/fears/hubris plays out in the world. I don’t ask my reader to connect with the character all the time – just to think about what the existence of people like them means to the world.

3) Pantser or plotter? Explain why.

I used to be a pantser, I am now a plotter. Nothing will give me worse writer’s block than coming to a point in the story where I realize it is going nowhere, or where trying to tie together all the threads will result in an enormous, ugly knot.

My weakness as a writer is in plotting – deciding what happens. I am good with the abstracts: settings, ideas, characters and motivations. I often know more about my world’s biosphere than I do the story’s plot direction before I start. Without plotting, my stories wound up just being the meandering adventures of interesting characters. They’d discover things, go places, have many meals and intelligent conversations – but none of it ever went anywhere and it didn’t culminate into anything. It didn’t mean anything. That thing most writers have, where they think “wouldn’t it be cool if this happened?” I don’t have a good sense of that. So I need to make sure I sketch out my story arc ahead of time.

4) Write a pitch for your favourite story you never wrote.

Okay, the following is the pitch for a novel I did start, and wrote the first four chapters of… but I don’t think I’ll ever be going back. Still, I had so much fun writing it.

“Seven years after the magii of Al’Tahj opened the first portal to Jammatan, the ocean world’s secrets are still buried. Thousand of islands hide ancient ruins, sophisticated artifice and complex messages from a long-dead civilization, now reclaimed by the jungle, the ocean, and the huge creatures that have come to dominate the world.

This is a world that rewards the brave, the reckless, and the ambitious. Those who cross through the portal and stake their claims on this new world grow rich, if they don’t get killed.

The Gloriana is bound for the open seas led by Captain Aziza Dualeh, who has a near-mystical talent for attracting, and conquering, trouble. Among her crew is the artificer Taban Haji Kaar, planted by the Caliphate of Al’Tahj to carry out a mission known only to him – a mission Taban finds himself increasingly unwilling to complete. Out on the frontier, away from the comfort and politics of Al’Tahj, Taban finds himself distracted by, of all things, his heart…”


Tag! I’m sending you next in the direction of Rati Mehrotra, Mari Adkins & C.M. Rosens! All three women have some fantastic work on the horizon, so I hope you’ll check them out.

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