I’m ridiculously excited to have the lovely AM Dellamonica on the blog today! Alyx is the author of Indigo Springs (you may read my review, if you’re curious), and the brand new Blue Magic, and she graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions!
Please welcome Alyx to the blog!
Alyx, your first book, Indigo Springs, was published in 2009 and your newest book, its sequel, Blue Magic, just came out! Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? What made you take the plunge and write your first novel?
You know, I really did. I was writing Doctor Seuss-inspired doggerel when I was five. I switched from prose to poetry early, but there’s no time that I can remember when I wasn’t trying to tell stories.
My very first novel attempt was a 40-page hand-written something I tried to write in grade four–it was essentially an attempt to write a legend about how the Vancouver Aquarium came to exist. (In my defense, I was ten.) I was inspired by the fact that Gordon Korman had published a book called THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING AT MACDONALD HALL in 1975, at the age of twelve. He had five years on me, but I figured, if he can do it, I can do it.
I had a few false starts on other novels throughout my teens. I remember it was a big deal the first time I wrote something longer than thirty pages. Then when I went to university, I focused on short fiction and the occasional play, because I had papers to write and shows to perform in and I was falling in love, too, all of which distracted me from any attempt to achieve novel-length focus. But as soon as I had my degree, I took a job working graveyard shift at an answering service for minimum wage, and started a horror novel, writing at work in the wee hours when there were almost no client calls to deal with.
The best that can be said for the book I wrote that year was that it was better than the Vancouver Aquarium novel. That, and I finished it. It had its good points and it taught me a ton, but but I had plenty more to learn.
Go back to when you found out Indigo Springs would be published. How did you celebrate?
It was a Tuesday night and I had choir practice (I used to sing alto in the choir now known as Out in Harmony www.outinharmony.org ), which meant I was making dinner for two other choir friends. I kept it to myself until my wife Kelly came home, and then we told them, and then we went to rehearsal and told everyone else. After that, all I remember is a lot of jumping up and down and hugging and screaming.
What do you love most about writing fantasy?
Just about everything! I especially like to think about the nature of the miraculous. In a world where you can heal the sick or make someone fly or cause flower petals to appear from thin air, or whatever, what then becomes impossible? And if you get it, does it mean anything, or is it just an expression of better magic?
Do you have any unusual writing quirks?
I’m not sure if you mean in my prose or in my work habits. One thing that’s a little odd about my body of work is that though most of my published fiction is fantasy, I consider myself an all-genres author: I have a mystery novel I’m marketing now, I have gotten grants for literary fiction, and I have a fair body of published SF stories. It’s a nice quality to have as a writing teacher – I don’t have to specialize, and so many of my UCLA Extension Writers’ Program classes bring together authors working in all genres, too. This always adds so much richness to each group!
In terms of my work habits, I am a “get up at the crack of dawn, every single day,” type of writer. I’m at a cafe at 6:00 a.m. every morning and I write fiction there until 8:00 a.m.
What are some of your favorite writers or novels?
I am madly in love with the prose and plotting of Tana French. I think Michael Bishop is a god. My favorite urban fantasy series is the Bloodhound Files by DD Barant. Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August has one of the most beautifully written opening chapters I’ve ever read. I reread Minette Walters’ The Shape of Snakes every year. Ditto Neal Stephenson’s eco-thriller, Zodiac.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Today’s answer would definitely be Eric Larsen’s The Devil in the White City. I am currently jonesing for a good true crime book and this is the best one I’ve ever read. Though that vastly oversimplifies what TDIWC is.
Tomorrow’s answer might be entirely different, or it might be something by Tana French. I’ve been eyeing FAITHFUL PLACE again.
I love the beautiful photos that you’ve taken and posted to your blog. What’s one of your favorite subjects to photograph?
I’m currently chasing birds with a 24x zoom camera. I’ve always loved birds (I write about them a lot!) and in Vancouver, the showcase bird that’s easiest to find is the Great Blue Heron. They’re low hanging fruit in one sense: beautifully colored, big, and not terribly shy. If they’re fishing, they’ll let you get stunningly close to them. But they’re so spectacular I keep taking new shots.
I read that you’re also a foodie. Any particular faves?
I spent most of this past December in Italy, and two of the most unexpected things I encountered, foodwise, were salt cod and persimmons. I had expected the former to have a tough texture and a salty feel, and had no idea someone could hydrate it to an indistinguishable-from-fresh state. As for the persimmons in Sicily, I crave them now. There were some in the stores in Vancouver when I got home, but they weren’t as fresh; they were good, but it wasn’t the same. I don’t know yet if I can get that amazing persimmon experience at some other point in the growing season, but I look for them every day.
One of the things about the persimmons–they’re sweet, and quite soft, and they looked a lot like tomatoes but with an odd button top–was that in the produce markets in Palermo, they glowed like they had a microfragment of the sun within them. This photo doesn’t do them justice.
If someone were to visit you in Vancouver for the first time, where would you take them?
I often take writers to our glorious, beautifully designed public library (www.vpl.ca) because I have so much civic pride about how gorgeous it is. I’ve taken friends and family and students to the Sun Yat Set Classical Chinese Garden (http://www.vancouverchinesegarden.com/) for much the same reason. I am a shocking coffee snob, especially since Italy, and so I drag people to the cafes that make the good stuff: Revolver, 49th Parallel, Wicked, and Trilussa.
Imagine you could pack your bags and go anywhere in the world tomorrow. Where would you go?
Very possibly, back to Sicily. Very possibly, forever. But I’ve seen so little of the world I’d be hard put to choose.
I also read that you teach online courses through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. What advice would you give to struggling writers?
Take our classes! We have a huge faculty, all pros working in publishing or the film industry, and there is really a class for everyone. It’s all online and I’ve had people from Australia, Sweden, the U.S. and Canada all at the same time.
Seriously, though, off the cuff writing advice often comes down to a standard set of tips: don’t give up, write every day, seek feedback and act on it, learn to revise, submit your work to the market rather than shoving it in a box in the closet. To this I’ll add: self-knowledge never hurts. Know what you’re passionate about and write about it. Try to understand your character strengths and weaknesses, and discuss them honestly. Part of reading fiction is the question “What would it be like to….” If you know the answer–what would it be like to hang-glide? What would it be like to survive a heart attack?–answer it as fully as you can.
But you don’t have to go with off the cuff! Whenever I think out some aspect of writing, I put it up on my blog under “Resources for Writers.”
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
I will be reading and signing at Powell’s Books in Portland on May 5th, and may have more tour dates soon. My blog at alyxdellamonica.com will have the latest… as soon as I figure out what that latest is.
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