Wednesday, November 18, 2009

author interview: sasha soren

For the Random Magic tour, Sasha Soren was kind enough to answer some questions.

What was the inspiration for Random Magic?

The interesting thing is that I didn’t even know I was going to write a book about this particular story.

I’ve always thought that opening a book and stepping into the pages is like entering a totally different world.

That’s what it is, really, isn’t it? All books are just like little portals into a totally different place. Different people, places, experiences.

If you think about it, books are, physically, just ink and paper. Or, in the 21st century, little blips of audio data.

But you know when you read a story you really like, something that makes you laugh out loud, or cry, or makes you angry, or makes you think, or even makes you fall in love with someone who doesn’t exist?

Well, I find that very interesting, that you react with genuine human emotion to something that’s really just a bunch of scrawls on a page.

That’s the fascinating thing about language, that as a species, we’ve found a way to almost share our minds, like telepathy, by something so primitive. Just little scrawls in ink.

It’s amazing, like conjuring, that you can pick up a book in your own language, and really see this other world, and hear characters speaking, and feel what it’s like to be this person or that person, it’s like going on a journey in your mind.

So, was just mulling that over one day, and idly thinking, “Well, let’s say you really could step into a book? Not just mentally, but as if you were really making a road trip in some strange place. Hey, that would be interesting…”

Then started thinking about where I’d go. Lewis Carroll’s works are just so trippy, it’d be fun to visit Wonderland. Just the name alone: Wonderland. Yes, please!

Then started thinking, well, it wouldn’t be that much fun to write about something I’d already read, but what about if Alice was lost in our world?

Then thought, that might be fun to write, but somehow the idea of writing about our own world just wasn’t that appealing to me. I prefer fiction to non-fiction, so perhaps that’s why I didn’t feel like writing what would essentially be non-fiction with a little twist.

Then thought, well, what if she was just lost in a different book? And what if that book was a world that was totally different from ours? And what if someone from out world had to go get her back?

And what if that person had no idea how to survive in a magical world? What if…?
That’s essentially how it happened. Truthfully, I just got curious and wanted to know, too.

By that time, it was too late to stop myself, was already following the threads of the story to see what would happen, and if Henry survived and was able to find Alice.

Didn’t actually plan on Winnie, she just kind of showed up. Which is very true to character, if you think about it.

Each chapter of Random Magic starts with a little summary and a quote. Did those come before or after the chapter was written? Why did you decide to include them?

I’m so happy that people enjoy the chapter headers, because it was fun coming up with them.

Jenny at Take Me Away blog and Allison of Well-Read Reviews have both commented on the chapter headers as being one of their favorite parts in the book, and I just get such a kick out of that, happy to know people get a laugh out of them.

The headers came sort of in the middle of the book. Yes, they were normally written after the chapter was already written, so that I’d have some idea what would happen in that chapter.

Initially, was debating whether or not to set the real-world prologue of the book in Victorian London.

So, in that sense, the chapter headers were a direct tribute to Victorian-era literature, which always seemed to have some wildly convoluted chapter header that ran: “In Which…Such And Such Extraordinary Thing Occurs, Can You Believe It?”

Interestingly, Charity Lynn at Keep On Booking blog mentions this in a vlog review she did about the book, saying that she’d read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland some 20 years ago, but was astonished that the chapter headers were so in keeping with the spirit of the book. She was spot on about that.

That was the intention, in the beginning, to do almost a mock Victorian-era type of chapter heading. As a tribute to classic works, also as a gentle satirical bit of fun, but also because those kinds of chapter headers just amused me, too. They’d be like half a page or so, but condense all the info into a little blurb; maybe they were like the 19th century version of movie trailers.

What ended up happening was that it seemed to me that the real-world prologue probably happened closer to our own time, rather than in the Victorian age – although, really, you can read it either way.

But the outlandish chapter headers stayed, simply because they just made me laugh. And I thought very hard about them, trying to find a blend of useful and comical, because I just liked the idea of someone reading them and laughing to themselves, too.

One of the best things about writing is when you hear back from someone who’s enjoyed something in exactly the same way you’ve written and enjoyed it, yourself. I love that.

So, yes, the chapter headers were just a quirky thing carried through the book, because they were just fun to write. Also, it was challenging to try to summarize a whole chapter in a few lines, so that was fun, too.

The quotes ended up in the chapter headers basically because they just looked a little naked, all by themselves.

Actually, was thinking about just having quotes as chapter headings, but they kind of looked like they needed some sort of introduction. So, then the chapter headings came in, and the quotes seemed like supplementary information, so just kept both of them.

I like they way they look and read. I also like to read books that have interesting chapter headers or quotes for each chapter. Don’t know why, I just do. It’s like some kind of little buffet to go along with the main course, or something.

Yes, could have done very profound and philosophical chapter headings, but decided it’d be more fun to just have a laugh. Because…well, we all just need a laugh sometimes, isn’t that so?

In Random Magic, Professor Random misplaces Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. What was your favorite book as a child?

There were so many that I honestly can’t pick just one. There were probably thousands.

Some people hate reading, and some people just love reading, and it’s natural, not something they’re forced to do, but something they do because they love it. So, was always just someone who loved to read.

Also started reading classic works very early, just couldn’t get enough of all these fascinating places to visit, would just read when I was supposed to be paying attention in school and so on.

The parents out there now who get report cards back that say things like, “Your child is extremely bright and gifted but won’t apply himself/herself,” well -- I feel your pain.

What book (your own or someone else’s) has had the most impact on your life?

I hate to say my own book, because then I sound like a preposterous arse. But it’s literally true that my own book had the most impact in my own life, simply because I was so deeply involved with it for so long, and had to make so many sacrifices and fight so hard for it.

Whenever you go into a sustained battle for anything in your life, no matter what that happens to be, of course it has an impact on your life. Of course it does.
So, the downside of that is that I did have to fight so hard for the book. The upside of that is that along the way I discovered that I have true sisu.

Sisu is a Finnish word -- I love to collect interesting words from various languages -- and it means (via Wikipedia):
“Strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. The literal meaning is equivalent in English to ‘having guts’..however, sisu is defined by a long-term element in it; it is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain an action against the odds. Deciding on a course of action and then sticking to that decision against repeated failures is sisu…

‘The Finns have something they call sisu. It is a compound of bravado and bravery, of ferocity and tenacity, of the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit, and to fight with the will to win. (Time Magazine, January 8, 1940).’

A riding student falling off a horse, not crying and keeping on getting back on the horse if she falls again is showing sisu. Learning to ride is not heroic, but showing the determination against failures is sisu. Also not asking for too much help, not making a big fuss but being stoic about the whole thing and sticking to a decision made earlier are defining the sisu…Knowing that you have lost, expecting a miracle, [but to] still keep on fighting is sisu.”

To me, that knowledge about what I can accomplish, and the strength of my own willpower, is a useful thing. That’s what I got in exchange for all the blood, sweat and tears.

I was very happy to learn that, because I could have given up at any time. I just didn’t.

You know who’s an excellent example of sisu? Winnie! Winnie, one of the main characters in the book. If you’ve already read the book, you know exactly what I mean.

Michelle, of Michelle’s Book Blog described Winnie’s attitude as: “No guts, no glory,” and that’s an excellent and accurate characterization. Alistair, of Cerebrate’s Contemplations blog, also took the time in a review to specifically mention his admiration for “clever, never-say-die Winnie.”

Brande, of Book Junkie blog, noted that Winnie is “brilliant, brave and…fearless” and “a heroine I want to be”, which I also appreciated so much that it’s hard to express, as I admire Winnie’s pluck, as well, and was glad that her fighting spirit resonated with people so strongly.

Actually, several other readers on tour (please feel free to stop by everyone’s blog: link) have expressed their love of Winnie’s courage and indefatigable spirit in the face of overwhelming odds. That’s what it is -- she’s got sisu.

And, I suppose, that’s how you accomplish anything your heart truly desires. That realization, in itself, was a gift and had an impact in my life because I understood that when I looked for true grit and inner strength, that I actually already had it.

Everyone should be lucky to realize that, although the means of achieving that are usually quite unpleasant. But it is a gift, and no one can take that away from you.

You can find that in your own life, as well. Maybe the smoke clears and you’re standing up, tottering from side to side and about to fall down. But, in point of fact -- you’re still standing. And, for that, I’d be the first to applaud you: Well done. Because there’s an individual who’s got sisu.

Any plans for another book?

At the moment, alas, nothing new on the desk, have been promoting my little heart out. But always have new ideas popping into my head, so there’s quite likely to be another one in the future.

It might not be the same kind of book, at all. I know it’s probably better to be consistent and write the same genre, every time, but I’m just a little unpredictable, and variety’s a nice thing, sometimes. Either way, promise it will be an interesting read, and worth your time to visit whatever world it happens to be.

I write for people the same way I write for myself, or the same way I think of ideas for people, kind of like, “Oh, have you heard about such-and-such interesting thing? Would you like to go/listen to it/try it/come with me?”

So, it might not be another book about magic, but there’ll be magic in it, in one way or another. I don’t mean literal hocus pocus, just that it’ll probably be an adventure and escape from the mundane world that you’ll enjoy. That’s my hope, anyway; I always write with that in mind: Let’s go somewhere…

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