Please welcome Mishell Baker to the blog! Her debut novel, Borderline, just came out, and she kindly answered a few of my questions about it and more!
What inspired you to write Borderline? Will you tell us a little about it?
I’ve always wanted to be a fantasy novelist, but traditional fantasy requires a great deal of world building. Creating complex worlds is something I enjoy, but after I had my first baby, I realized that long trips to the library were not going to happen in my immediate future. So I toyed around with the idea of setting a fantasy story in the city I already knew and loved. When my husband pitched me what he thought would be a great idea for a TV series set in L.A., I shamelessly stole the idea from him, tinkered with it until he didn’t recognize it anymore, and then turned it into a novel.
Why do you think readers will root for Millie? Will you tell us more about her?
I can only say why I personally root for Millie, because likability is very subjective. One person’s “awesome” is another person’s “unbearable.” For me, what makes Millie sympathetic is how hard she works at getting through or around her own vulnerabilities. This is someone with a lot of cards stacked against her, but something in her just won’t quite let her throw in the towel. She tried giving up once and found out it didn’t work for her. I guess you could say she’s given up on giving up.
Did you do any specific research for the book?
My ability to do research was limited at the time I wrote the book, since I was housebound and pretty socially isolated, but the Internet is a marvelous thing. I learned what I could about the day-to-day experience of living with lower limb prostheses, and I tapped into both my husband’s knowledge of filmmaking and some of my own experiences in the entertainment industry. At later stages of writing I drove around L.A. location scouting, making sure my physical and geographical details rang true, because I live in a huge sprawling city and my visual memory isn’t always reliable.
What is your writing process like?
A lot less mysterious than many writers’, I can tell you that. I have a sort of gradually expansive approach. I start with a basic idea, flesh it out to five major turning points I learned in a screenwriting seminar years ago, then break down what happens chapter by chapter, then scene by scene. All this is just an outline, but it can end up being a pretty long document by the end. Sometimes I’ll even slip in bits of dialogue or description I know I want to use in that particular scene. Once I have this ridiculously detailed outline, I use it as a road map and write the first draft at an average of 2500 words per day. Then I clean up what I know needs cleaning up and send it on to beta readers, who tell me what to do next. It’s all strangely mechanical; I feel more like a craftsman than an artist sometimes, which is why you’ll never hear me use that term.
Have you always wanted to be an author? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
Yes, I’ve always wanted to be an author. A novelist, specifically. I have no other background to speak of; my entire life always revolved around this goal. I was already writing fiction somewhat obsessively by age four, and at age six I announced my plans to make a career out of it. My parents took me seriously and bought me books on writing, sent me to writing camp and so on; I was very lucky. But even with all my privilege and encouragement, it took me until I was forty years old to hold my first book in my hands, so it’s probably good that things weren’t any harder for me.
What do you like to see in a good story? Is there anything that will make you put a book down, unfinished?
More often than not, I put down a book because I hear a crash as my three-year-old gets into something she shouldn’t, and then by the time I finish cleaning up the mess, I realize I’m late for this or that and next thing you know, three days have passed. So unless the book has some kind of insane siren-like hold on me, chances are it gets forgotten. To answer the spirit of your question: the books that reel me in are always the ones with characters who seem real and who create such a personal, intimate, emotional response in me that I worry about them the way I would a friend. I get obsessed and have to check back in on them, even if dinner is burning or the kids are drawing on each other’s faces with Sharpies or whatever.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
With the caveat that I’d have to have the exact same experience, which is impossible as I’m twenty years older now, I’d have to go with Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. Long after I had forgotten every word of the book itself (ironic, if you’re familiar with it), I still remembered the way reading it absolutely shattered me, and the way it influenced me as a writer. I tried rereading it again recently, and while it’s still a wonderful book, I can never get back that first experience — the absolute shock of it — and I’d love to have a chance to relive that.
Have you read any good books lately? Anything you’d recommend?
If you haven’t read Uprooted by Naomi Novik, you should; it was exactly the sort of siren call I was talking about above. So was Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, an amazing YA fantasy whose sequel is still beckoning temptingly from my to-read list. Also the Ancillary trilogy by Ann Leckie is a wonderful combination of rollicking space opera and trope-challenging brain gymnastics. Last but not least, if you like Borderline you should definitely check out everything Daniel José Older is doing right now, because he does it way better than I do. I wish I had something more off-the-beaten-path to recommend, but given all the restrictions on my reading time, I have been mostly confined to the ones Everyone Is Talking About.
What’s next for you?
Phantom Pains! That’s book two of the Arcadia Project, and I am hugely excited about it. I’m contracted for a third book as well. I have at least three other series ideas as well, so I’d better live to be at least eighty.
A cynical, disabled film director with borderline personality disorder gets recruited to join a secret organization that oversees relations between Hollywood and Fairyland in the first book of a new urban fantasy series from debut author Mishell Baker.
A year ago, Millie lost her legs and her filmmaking career in a failed suicide attempt. Just when she’s sure the credits have rolled on her life story, she gets a second chance with the Arcadia Project: a secret organization that polices the traffic to and from a parallel reality filled with creatures straight out of myth and fairy tales.
For her first assignment, Millie is tasked with tracking down a missing movie star who also happens to be a nobleman of the Seelie Court. To find him, she’ll have to smooth-talk Hollywood power players and uncover the surreal and sometimes terrifying truth behind the glamour of Tinseltown. But stronger forces than just her inner demons are sabotaging her progress, and if she fails to unravel the conspiracy behind the noble’s disappearance, not only will she be out on the streets, but the shattering of a centuries-old peace could spark an all-out war between worlds.