Joyful summer salutations to everyone, and welcome back to Magic Beans! In the below interview with my snarky muse (SM), we talk about the writing process and what separates good books from bad books.
SM: So, you’ve finished ten books.
Me: My first ten, yes. I hope to produce another ten in the next decade, coming out with a new novel in the spring of every year.
SM: That’s an ambitious schedule. Surely, a bit of quality has to suffer under the load of all that quantity.
Me: I don’t see it that way at all. One should be able to write a good story in a year’s time.
SM: (getting snarky) Of your ten comic fantasy books, which one’s the worst?
Me: That’s an odd question.
SM: No, it’s not! You told me to ask original questions. There’s got to be a stinko or two. And you should know, right?
Me: Yeah, I would. A bad book for me is predictable; unoriginal; the story carries a cliché feeling. The characters are flat, poorly developed, with unrealistic dialog and a boring plot.
SM: I suppose you’d say none of that applies to your work?
Me: I was hoping your tone would be less snarky.
SM: Oh, if you want snark, I can give you snark, buddy…
Me: (ignoring outburst) Anyway, I always try to build relatable characters and stories that engage from the start, and with plots that captivate. Comic fantasy is my game, after all. Lilly Tomlin said, “Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.”
SM: Right. So, what do you do when you pick up a stinko?
Me: Just because you picked up a book and spent some time reading it doesn’t mean you have to finish it.
SM: I can dig that. What do you have in the works now?
Me: If you recall, the second book in the Cuckoo Colloquium series, ‘Cuckoo Heartfully’, was about inside-outing—where the thoughts we keep on the inside are turned outward.
SM: I heard it’s about some chick’s naked butt.
Me: That’s symbolic of the hypocrisy we deal with in life.
SM: (rolling its one eye) Yeah, right.
Me: I’m writing the third book in the series now, and it’s about upside-downing—taking things in our world that are unfair or unjust and turning them on their heads.
SM: But it’s another colloquium, right? A learning experience, so to speak.
Me: That’s right. Or it’s just people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Including myself.
SM: You upside-down yourself?
Me: The writer dies.
SM: That’s you.
Me: (nodding) Laurie Halse Anderson said, “When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.”
SM: Your idea of self-expression is to stage your own death? … You’ve lost me here.
Me: I’m sorry to hear that because that’s what comic fantasy is—droll parables that map the wretched and the absurd; tales earnest and asinine—with lots of silliness. That’s what you get in a Greco book.
SM: Do you use the same characters or introduce new ones?
Me: I always have new characters, but I’ll keep some of the old ones around, too. Pinky Bell is back—as she’s become the cornerstone of the series. Here she’s pursued by a mysterious entity that turns everything in its path upside-down: The rich see what life is like as paupers, the narcissist gets a taste of his own arrogance, racists become the object of their own derision.
SM: A lot of authors are self-censoring these days. Doesn’t that crush the inspirational spirit?
Me: Kazuo Ishiguro warns of young authors self-censoring out of ‘fear’ of being ‘trolled’ or ‘cancelled’. But for some reason there are a lot of people in this world who say “I don’t like this thing, it shouldn’t exist.” The solution is to not read the book if you don’t like it.
SM: But publishers and corporations listen to twitter and will bend the knee if enough trolls get together to cancel someone.
Me: “The real world is where the monsters are.” … That’s Frank Herbert from Dune.
SM: So, it’s on twitter where we find the real monsters?
Me: (reaching for a book on the coffee table) Now, this will brutally rip out your heart and tear it to shreds, then stomp it into the ground as you drown in a sea of tears and bask in eternal sorrow… Here, read it.
SM: (reading the cover) Assunta… That’s your virus book.
Me: Sharing is caring.
SM: (curling all three of its lips) You really broke the genre rules with that one. Don’t you worry about that?
Me: Worry about what?
SM: Breaking the rules.
Me: Rules? (in my best bandido accent) I don’t need no stinkin’ rules. (back to normal voice) Writing by the rules applies to essays, official documents, the world of academia. I write works of fiction, and the writing style had better be unique.
SM: You don’t handle constructive criticism very well.
Me: Some of the best literary works have done away entirely with grammar and punctuation; this is what creative genius is about, not following some rule book.
SM: (snarky again) Perhaps that’s why you have no real following … Any final words of wisdom?
Me: (considering the question) The only thing standing between writers and their dreams may be their appearance, their lack of talent, general personality, and inability to self-promote.
SM: That’s some… uh, real wisdom there.
Me: Thanks. If you’re a changed person after you turn the last page, then it’s a good book. Growth is change; change is novelty. Life is about spanning the wings wider and feeling the breeze on your face while you soar—and straightening your spine, smiling while you do it. A good book lets you do the same.