Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Interview: Lisa Mantchev

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Lisa Mantchev's upcoming novel is Eyes Like Stars. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous publications like Spicy Slipstream Stories, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, Electric Velocipede, and Clarkesworld.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, I want to talk about your theater experience. What was it about theater that attracted you to it?

Perpetual Show-Off Syndrome? Really, I was a kid that liked being in the spotlight, onstage or off, and I was always a sucker for a beautiful costume.

Did this experience affect your decision to write a novel set in The Théâtre Illuminata universe?

Absolutely. I figured writing what I know would be the smartest thing to do in tackling my first novel, and there's something inherently magical about the theater... it made absolute sense to me that fantastical things happen backstage, out of sight of the audience.

Can you tell us more about the novel and the series?

You know, the interior flap copy is so shiny, I think we should put that here:

Beatrice Shakespeare Smith is not an actress, yet she lives in a theater. She's not an orphan, but she has no parents. She knows every part, but she has no lines of her own.

Until now.

Welcome to the Théâtre Illuminata, where the characters of every play ever written can be found behind the curtain. They were born to play their parts, and are bound to the Théâtre by The Book--an ancient and magical tome of scripts. Bertie is not one of them, but they are her family--and she is about to lose them all and the only home she has ever known.

Why Young Adult? Was that the target audience you originally had in mind?

I never wrote it thinking "this is for ages 12-and-up." The main character is seventeen, and it's very much a coming-of-age story, which is why I think it ends up qualified as Young Adult. Well, that and the booger jokes. And the cupcakes. And the random mooning.

How different is it writing for young adults compared to writing for an adult audience? Is it an easy transition for you?

I think the main difference between YA and mainstream literature or even fantasy is that more leeway is given in way for the silly, the energetic, that sort of wild and exuberant enthusiasm that younger people and the young-at-heart have... that feeling of "yes!" when dealing with possibilities. My shorter fiction always had that sense of ridiculous and feeling of imaginary tap-dancing, so I think YA is the perfect place for me.

How did Feiwel & Friends end up publishing your book? Any difficulties shopping around your novel?

My agent submitted the novel to several publishers, and we had multiple offers within a few weeks. EYES LIKE STARS ended up at Feiwel & Friends because they think of books as friends... and that's how I've always thought of them. Plus Jean Feiwel, my editor, has an enormous hairy dog named Holden Caulfield. When I saw that, I knew we were a perfect match (I have four enormous and hairy dogs myself).

During the writing process, what was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?

Learning to revise something that was eighty thousand words instead of eight was verily tricky... thankfully, my editor Rebecca Davis has an absolute eagle-eye attention to detail, and she was wonderful about spotting flaws and then letting me puzzle out how I wanted to fix things.

Going back to your theater experience, which came first: the desire to write fiction or to become a playwright?

I was writing short stories and plays by the fourth grade, so both.

How does one become a playwright?

By writing a play! Ah, well, if you want me to be more specific than that... Memorizing my lines for shows meant I was familiar with script-format, and it only made sense to me to tell stories in that format. From there, I quickly learned that by writing plays, I could gather my friends and family together and boss them around, and I was exactly the sort of seven-year-old that liked bossing people around, too. Just ask my sister. So I wrote short plays for elementary and junior high school events and then my first full-length piece while in high school.

What made you decide to pursue speculative fiction? Any books/authors that particularly called out to you?

Everything I've ever written (school papers aside) has been speculative. I guess I just didn't see the point in writing about the way things were... it was always more interesting to throw in some magical wishes, a teleporter, a passageway to another world. I loved Alice in Wonderland and The Five Children and It. I also really loved British children's novels without speculative content... Noel Streatfeild's Shoes series, for example, which are about children attending a theater training academy. That early love of British literature also probably explains why I love Diana Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci books and all of Neil Gaiman's work.

Again, what's it like transitioning from playwright to fiction writer? What are some lessons you take to heart in one and carry over to the other?

I never have any problem writing dialogue. *L* In fact, I have to do real work to connect the bits of dialogue, because plays are almost entirely one character speaking to another. I also feel like I have an easy time imagining how certain characters would react in any given situation, even if I'm not entirely sure what their motivation may be.

What's the current status of your playwright persona?

On hold. I'd like to turn EYES LIKE STARS into a stage show, but I have two more novels under contract with Feiwel & Friends, plus a steampunk series in development, so there's not a lot of time to spend at a theater in rehearsal right now.

When did you decide to pursue writing "seriously"? What steps did you take to actualize it?

I've been writing short fiction since 2000 with the intent to publish. First I joined the CompuServe IMPs, a critique group, and wrote at least three or four short stories a month until I made my first professional sale (to a DAW anthology) in 2002. That's when I attended my first WorldCon. After that, there was more writing, more critiquing, more conventions. I joined LiveJournal and began to network with other writers and editors. Later, I joined the staff at Shimmer Magazine to read submissions and then later to be an editor. Each bit of work is a tiny puzzle piece in the big picture.

At what point did you consider yourself a professional author?

I think when I was invited to be on programming at my first convention (a NorwesCon.) They gave me a badge that said "Pro" on it, so it had to be true!

You've written short stories as well as novels. Which medium are you more comfortable with or prefer to explore further in the future?

I honestly like both for very different reasons. I was scared to death to write that first novel, but I had a short story that just wouldn't stay short. Now that I've written several other novel drafts, I love the room to breathe and play in the longer format. But there's something very challenging and just as rewarding as telling a complete tale, beginning to end, in five thousand words or less.

What is it about steampunk that appeals to you? What's your definition of Steampunk?

You know, now that you asked that, I almost never refer to it as Steampunk. Tongue-in-cheek, I usually refer to the novel (and my short stories with this sensibility) as Retrofuturistic NeoVictorian... meaning I have an alternate-Victorian society and a love of shiny brass bits and gadgets. There's been a lot of discussion about what is and isn't steampunk, and I don't have any patience for people who want to sternly define genres and then wag their fingers at writers they think are misapplying their labels.

That said, I've always loved shopping for antiques, so I wallowed in creating a world in which pocketwatches and penny farthing bicycles and mechanized silliness abounds, and I had an absolute ball naming the characters and places and gadgets in this book.

What was it like going through the slush pile for Shimmer? What are some valuable lessons you learned during that particular experience?

Reading stories that were submitted to the magazine really did help me learn just how long you have to capture a reader's attention... and it's not very long. Also, your cover letter and e-mail address go a long way toward telling an editor just how serious you are about your writing... be professional (not sarcastic, cute, or sarcastic) and use your real name, if possible, as your e-mail handle, not "spazztasticnewbie@guaranteedtobeafruitcake.net"

What has your convention experience been like? How has it helped your career?

I love going to conventions. My "home" con is NorwesCon in Seattle in the Spring, and I get to take as much luggage as I want, which is good for costuming! I also have attended several WorldCons and a World Fantasy Con. There's absolutely nothing like networking with other writers and editors in person. I also met up with Ashley Grayson (who would become my agent) for the first time at LACon.

The Internet: how has it affected Lisa Mantchev?

I've met some of my very closest friends over the internet, people who are now my first readers and threaten to wallop me with dead fishes, should the occasion arise. It's also helped advance my career, as I've had many stories published electronically. There's a whole "me" that only exists online, via my blogs and my website and my fiction... she's actually taller than I am, and more of a badass, and capable of wearing four-inch stilettos without falling down.

What's your favorite pastry?

I don't discriminate... bring me your flaky, your custard-filled, your fruit-topped delights, the chocolately ones and the ones with nuts, the ones that crumble and the ones that ooze out the opposite end when you bite into them. *argledrool*

(The most perfect dessert, though, is my mom's cheesecake, and no, you can't have the recipe. But if you want to come to my house, I'll make you one.)

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Get your back end in the chair and write... every day or close to that. Spend more time writing than talking about writing or thinking about writing or making excuses about not writing. Get the words on the page. You can fix them--and angst over them--later.

How about advice for aspiring playwrights?

Far less qualified to talk about this, but I think more plays need prat-falls and flinging of custard pies.

Anything else you want to plug?

I have a steampunk novelette collaboration with James A. Grant coming out in a future issue of Weird Tales. Also, my friend Lesley Livingston's novel, Wondrous Strange, features actresses and magic and Shakespeare!

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