The Interview Party, Round One

So, I’ve been answering a lot of interview questions lately, as bloggers read and review my new novel Raven’s Ladder.

I’m honored to have my work be the focus of so much scrutiny. And, as you might expect, a lot of the same questions keep coming up.

So, for the sake of variety, I went to my Facebook page and asked folks to come up with some questions I hadn’t heard before. In return, I would ask *them* a question.

Here is Part One of the conversations that ensued:

Adrienne Lema:

Who’s your favorite Muppet and why? Did Muppets inspire any characters? Krawg and Warney, perhaps?

My Response:

Hmmm.

Although Animal is the Muppet who makes me laugh the most, Kermit is my favorite. I think I sympathize with him. He has a big dream of doing something well, fulfilling a vision that will make a difference. But dreams require collaboration, and he’s often frustrated when people misunderstand his vision or try to exploit it for their own purposes (like Doc Hopper in The Muppet Movie). I feel for the guy.

Now, did Muppets inspire any of my characters?

The two crotchety old Gatherers in Auralia’s Colors, Krawg and Warney, have a bit of Statler and Waldorf in them, don’t they?

I think I noticed the resemblance after I wrote that book. But their grouchy demeanor and reluctant, abrasive friendship do remind me of those old geezers.

(In that sense, I suppose Siskel and Ebert influenced Krawg and Warney too…)

Other Muppets: Cal-raven is something of a Kermit. He’s a leader with a dream, and he’s not fond of taking a strong-hand approach to leadership. He prefers to lead by example. He has bigger, more mysterious things on his mind than ruling a kingdom. The tension between his artistic inspiration and the practical demands of everyday life in a difficult world… that was also, I think Kermit’s dilemma.

What about you, Adrienne? If Muppets have influenced my writing, surely some of your favorite characters from childhood influenced you in your creative pursuits… perhaps your culinary inventions. What characters – Muppets or otherwise – are whispering in your ear while you work?

Adrienne:

I watched Babette’s Feast when I was around 10, I think–maybe earlier. She’s always whispering to me in the kitchen, about presentation and how to sort out life through food. She showed me how a quiet life isn’t necessarily dull, but can be made bright and sensuous with a vibrant soul. Through her, I learned that good ingredients are worth the price, and to truly taste doesn’t take a food critic, only a good chef and an open mind. The father from Eat Drink, Man Woman brought me solidly into the fold of culinary art, as I observed his elaborate meals transforming and increasing his family. No person is left out from a bountiful open table. These two characters also expanded my view of the world, with how very many interesting flavors must exist in it. My rule for years has been to always taste something new when I go into an international grocery. I buy my favorites, then peruse the aisles for that one product I’ve never seen before that will follow me home to my kitchen. Even the odd disappointment is a learning experience.

These two characters may be the most directly influential in my cooking, but a host of chattering others also help out. Elizabeth Bennett taught me how to do things my own way with style. Francie Nolan taught me how to observe. Lawrence of Arabia taught me to try it the foreign way. Dionysus taught me to cook with wine, and a little excess. Puck and Loki go for the zing. And Paul Atreides always makes sure there’s enough water.

Benja Lockridge:

What did NOT inspire you to write these stories?

My Response:
Many things inspired me to write Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, or Raven’s Ladder. But I most definitely was not inspired by any desire to teach a lesson, or to sell books.

If I had started out thinking “I want to teach the world a lesson about art or marriage or Jesus or the environment or politics,” I would have written a lecture.

If had been inspired to focus on selling books, I would have included spectacular swordfights (so I could have swords and violence on the cover), big frightening fire-breathing dragons (so one of those would end up on the cover), a plot about one character’s desire to avenge his murdered wife or family, and I would have wrapped it up with a spectacular battle that would have inspired filmmakers to buy the rights.

I might have included a teenage girl who feels insecure, and who simply must win the love of a dangerous man – like a vampire – in order to find a reason to go on living.

And then, I would have had an even handsomer young man appear as a rival, because young girls love reading books in which they can imagine sexy and dangerous men fighting over her. I would have written a story in which the hero saves the world by his own strength and talents, because that is what folks like to hear, even though it’s a lie.

And I certainly wouldn’t have worried about anything like poetry; I would have written a page-turner full of action and sensational details just to keep the reader’s attention, without requiring them to do any actual thinking.

Now, Mr. Lockridge, your hometown is New Orleans. If I visit New Orleans again, what places should I visit that would prove most inspiring for a new fantasy story? And what destinations there would serve as the best places to sit for hours and scribble in a journal?

Benja:

I always visit St. Louis Cathedral. I’m not Catholic, but it’s one of the most gorgeous churches I’ve ever laid eyes on.

Let’s see, there is the historic Longue Vue house. If I recall it has a huge garden area. Very beautiful.

OH! There is Lafitte’s Blacksmith shop. Not sure why I mentioned that, it’s just fascinating to me, and it does look like it was something that was ripped from a fantasy novel.

For some reason historic places make me think of fantasy. Possibly because we’re so far removed from it now.

You could always visit the Cabildo.

But let’s be honest, it’s not hard to be inspired in New Orleans.

Hope this helps. =)

I know you said you had been to New Orleans, but when did you visit? I honestly have not been back since Katrina. Itching to go back, and take my wife. She’s never been which I feel is a sin.

Anyway, always love talking New Orleans. Feel free to ask about it anytime!

My second response to Benja:

I visited New Orleans in 2009. I never got to see the pre-Katrina New Orleans, and I regret that.

Jason Bortz:

What is the biggest struggle for you in developing characters with their own distinct psychological, emotional and intellectual profiles? And after that, how come no whalesong?

My Response:

The biggest struggle for me in character development is time — there’s never enough of it.

I want to throw my characters into all kinds of hypothetical situations just to learn how they’ll react, just to figure out what they sound like when they talk. But I’m writing in a big hurry these days, and so I have to pay fierce attention to what I know about their past and their personality.

The Auralia Thread is a very complicated story, and the characters seem to move from one crisis to the next. I struggle to find opportunities for them to relax and “be themselves.” I’d love to have more opportunity to have fun with them, to see them embarrass themselves or each other. If I had more time to write, I’d find more humor in this series.

Having said that, I’m looking forward to writing the next adventure series… which will be as much about comedy as it is about drama.

Oh, and whalesong? Yes. There will be whalesong. Just you wait.

Jason, you’re an excellent actor, so here’s a question I’m asking for a very important reason: If you were preparing to play a character who was making his way through underground tunnels for miles and miles, what would you do to bring that character to life? I’m trying to get into the head of a character who has spent too much time underground. So I’m interested in an actor’s perspective on that.

Also, tell me about the greatest experience you’ve had in a theatrical role, and why you loved it so much.

Jason:

Atmosphere is everything.

The sense of equilibrium would suffer. Every movement on the raft would tilt the world, so I might eventually want to sease moving entirely. I might lie flat with arms outstretched to the edges and legs extended so I could be sure of my placement, carefully rotating onto my stomach and back again periodically so as to forego vertigo.

My mind would crawl over such things as depths of the water, distances, time. The walls could be inches away, or a mile. The water inches deep, or leagues.

What life might there be in the water beneath?

I would touch it to my lips in thirst, fearful of parasites, imagining all manner of creatures clinging barnacle-like to the underbelly.

Above all, the acoustics in your scenario would render every spoken word a multitude of echoes; water and stone both conduct sound. So speaking, crying, laughing–all of these would haunt me as I drifted, prompting me to silence or, depending on how long I were on the journey, an encroaching sense of going mad. I might have conversations with myself and imagine the echoes begin to respond differently, becoming different words as they return for 20th time…I would want to call for help, to cry out to man or God–but the sound might pummel me into silence again, coaxing a sense of futility, meagerness, insignificance.

I might lose all track of where I was in relation to the world. Nausea, paranoia might be issues.

I might sleep, but startle awake, fearful of going over the side. I might begin to weigh the pros and cons of death. All water flows somewhere. Perhaps the sun. Perhaps a whirlpool. Perhaps I’m prolonging the inevitable death. Perhaps paradise awaits at the end.

Conversely, I might just think “Hey, cool river!” and feel great the whole time.

Now, if I were to have gone through this and achieved human contact again, been rescued–

It might be some time before I would be able to orient myself spatially to my environments, before I could stand the sound of human voices. I might have difficulty standing erect, or, when still, might feel very heavy–or a continued vertigo and impression that I am still in motion.

I might speak quietly, sparingly, my ears attuned to every nuance of voice–and I might judge the words of others for their -sound- rather than -content-. I might be annoyed by those who use many words, I might fear volume.

Yeah. Those might be a few things.

Thanks to the participants. Stay tuned… ROUND TWO IS COMING SOON!

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.


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