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I am beyond thrilled to share with you today my featured interview for the Fantasy Hive! It’s a fun and wonderful site, and I enjoyed answering these questions so much. Many, many thanks to the fabulous (and sharktastic!) Laura M. Hughes for giving me this opportunity. I hope you will all enjoy reading about, as Laura phrased it, “sharks, the power of music, sharks, itinerant writing, sharks, and the possibility of Melika secretly turning out to be a Dúnedain ranger.”
Thanks for joining us today, Melika! Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently.
Pan by Knut Hamsun. This is the second of his novels that I’ve read over the last few months (Victoria was the first—devastatingly brilliant!), and I can now say that I am hooked! Pan is a short book, but that only makes the experience even more intense. There is much casual and outright cruelty in it, regarding how human beings use and treat each other as if they are disposable, but you just cannot look away, or at least I could not—and you absolutely cannot stop reading, washed along on this dark tide of roiling emotions as you are. The characters did things that made me want to strangle them, and yet I pitied them and could relate to them almost simultaneously. I even laughed aloud at several points, only to be chilled into silence a few paragraphs later, especially after reading one shattering line that had to do with Aesop the dog. I find Hamsun’s works fascinating and am, quite frankly, amazed by his ability to sketch these vivid and penetrating psychological portraits with such economy, whereas it would take a lesser author hundreds of pages to do the same.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
I had to do some research for this question, because I’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons and know nothing about it. Yet as soon as I saw what the character classes were, I had no doubt as to which one I’d belong to. Ranger. Not only because Aragorn, after Gandalf, is my favourite character in The Lord of the Rings, but I think I actually might have Dúnedain blood, since I was mistaken for a 15 year old a couple of summers back, even though I’m…quite a few years older than that. As for my weapon of choice, it would have to be a sword, one that is slightly smaller than Anduril (I’m darn near hobbit size, how do you expect me to lift something so huge?!), but no less lethal and majestic.
Great answer! When you’re not trawling through dungeons, do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
I find that when I’m seized by a story, my thoughts begin firing incredibly quickly, and since I’m a fast typist (thanks to my mother, the typing teacher, who taught me this skill when I was five years old), this allows me to put my ideas into a cohesive narrative much more easily than if I took the time to handwrite them into a notebook. It also must be said that my handwriting is not the most elegant thing in the world. To give you an example of just how illegible it can get, I’ve had to discard notes in the past because I couldn’t make heads or tails of what I’d written! I still jot down notes on whatever scrap of paper is nearest to hand, of course, and try not to be so hasty when scrawling out a thought, but typing has been and will, I hope, always be the best writing method for me.
And how do you like to work – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps?
Can’t they be prawns like Pepe, okay? No? In that case, I like to have music playing low in the background when I write, preferably epic film soundtracks, while at other times, I require classical music. It depends on what I’m writing. If the scene calls for me to muster my inner Rohirrim, then epic it is, but if I’m writing something intensely emotional, I need music that will resound in my soul and heart and be my Virgil, guiding me through the darkness and into the light beyond. This was the case with one particular scene in Deadmarsh Fey, and if I hadn’t had classical music to bear me up when I was plumbing some very traumatic and emotional depths, I do not know how I would have made it through.
Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit? Tell us something unusual about your writing method!
The only unusual thing about my writing routine is that I rove from room to room when I feel the need for a change of scene. Staring at a blank wall all day gets old after a while, so I often take my laptop outside and sit amid the greenery. It’s soul-restoring, and inspiring, and always makes me feel as if I’ve been given a chance to see the story afresh, with new eyes. I’m very grateful I’ve had the opportunity to do this, because I see how it has helped in the past, most especially with Deadmarsh Fey. There were some particularly thorny spots toward the beginning of that book that only finally became untangled in my mind thanks to my being able to write outside in the freeing air.
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
There is only one, but it was a paradigm shift and changed the course of my life: Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, specifically The Fellowship of the Ring. And here is the reason why…
For most of my early life, I wanted to be a marine biologist, even though I had been writing little stories on and off since I was around eight years old, and began work on my first novel at the age of fourteen. To me, writing was (and still is) like a key that unlocks secret doorways into other worlds, and I couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that I was being called to dedicate my life to exploring these universes—and making them my own. Yet it wasn’t until the winter of 2001, as I sat in a darkened theatre, awestruck and enraptured by my first glimpse of Middle-Earth, that the path I was meant to take unfolded before me. This I owe to Gandalf and the words of wisdom he spoke to Frodo in the caverns of Moria, when hope was threatening to fade and disappear entirely:
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
In my heart, I knew what my decision had to be. And so I made it…and have never looked back.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
Air Jaws: Back From the Dead. I’ve been watching Shark Week since it premiered, and these flying shark specials have been my favorite parts of the celebration for many years. The sight of such huge, magnificent animals—some weighing two to three tons—launching themselves out of the water never ceases to amaze me, and has resulted in my being inspired to incorporate sharks into not only my writings (current project included), but in song, as well. Here’s a little one I composed ten years ago during the 20th anniversary as an homage to Shark Week—the most wonderful time of the year:
(As performed by Irv, a Great White Shark from Sydney, Australia, and all around fantastic lad,
with select interjections by the Australian Shark Chorus)
Swimming through the sea, with bloodshed on my mind,
I spy a little seal, then bite off his behind!
But he is just a snack, I need a bigger munch,
So when I spot a surfer dude, I shout, “Yippee! There’s lunch!”
Ohhh! Jingle Sharks, Jingle Sharks, chumming’s not for us!
Sharkin’s been looked down on since Old Quint, he bit the dust!
(And we’ve got Bruce to thank for that!)
Ohhh! Jingle Sharks, Jingle Sharks, we like our bait live!
Why don’t all you people on the beach come take a dive?!
(We won’t bite, we promise! Sharks’ honor!)
*brief tom-tom interlude: Da da da da da DA, dum dum!*
The surf is choppy now, and swimmers cannot see,
That lurking right offshore, is little three ton me!
I play it nice and cool, I bide my time so good,
And when nobody’s looking, I latch on to someone’s foot!
Ohh-ohhh-ohhhhhh! Jingle Sharks, Jingle Sharks, Shark Week is sublime!
We’ve ruled cable TV for three decades in primetime! Ohhh-oh-ohhhhhh!
Jingle Sharks, Jingle Sharks, everybody’s hooked!
Thanks to conservation, now, our goose ain’t gonna be cooked!
*raucous shouts of “Sharkland, forever!” erupt from the Australian Shark Chorus*
Copyright © 2008, 2018 by Melika Dannese Lux
*APPLAUSE* Beautiful, Melika! Simply beautiful.
Back to the questions (sadly): the world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write or otherwise do any work. How do you choose to spend the day?
Wandering the fields of the Shire (ours is not in New Zealand, btw) with the one I love. That would be heaven, and my idea of true bliss—the absolute perfect day.
If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
The semicolon. It’s so indecisive. Am I a comma? Am I a period? Make up your mind, you cannot be both!
In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
Here there be sharks, and demons of the deep. And a creature whose memory is as fathomless as its desire for revenge.
At this point, we’d be surprised if there *weren’t* sharks in your WIP.
Melika, if you could co-write or co-create a series (like The Expanse, or the Malazan Book of the Fallen), who would you choose to work with and why?
Can I hop in a time machine and travel back several decades to Oxford? Because the author I would love to co-write or co-create a series with is J. R. R. Tolkien. He and his legendarium and their glorious film adaptations have impacted my life in so many ways, and if the space time continuum or whatever it is could be bent to allow me to meet and work with him, I’d do so in a heartbeat. Just being able to talk to him and discuss not only Middle-Earth, but his love of Anglo-Saxon and Norse myths and legends, the meaning of words and names, his deep Catholic faith and how it imbued his worldview…that would be amazing to me! And then there is the added bonus of ending up at the Eagle and Child after a hard day’s work and meeting up with all the other Inklings, especially C. S. Lewis, for a round of likeminded conversation and story reading from each of our latest projects…and some pretty harsh but constructive criticism! I know this is a total fantasy, but I don’t care. Let me have my little dream.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
The worst and most stultifying piece of advice I have ever been given is to “write what you know.” If I’d followed it, Deadmarsh Fey would not exist. Don’t write what you know. Write what you dream, and make sure you instill your entire being into what your heart and soul are calling you to breathe into life.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
There are two, both in the present day. England first, then off to Middle-Earth, I mean, New Zealand, to tour Hobbiton and The Lord of the Rings filming locations, catch a glimpse of the big boys (Great White sharks, from a boat, not within the cage, because, as a rather crackbrained yet perspicacious old salt once remarked, “You go in the water. Cage goes in the water. Shark’s in the water. Our shark. Farwell and adieu…”), and other places that have special meaning to me.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
It wasn’t writer’s block, because I never stopped writing during it, but back in 2013, I suffered through an intense, year-long ordeal of working on what would become the last book in Dwellers of Darkness, Children of Light (the four novel series that Deadmarsh Fey is part of). At the time, I thought this book had to come first, but every day I sat down at the laptop to write was a struggle and made me feel as though I was trying to shove round pegs into square holes. It took me a long while to realize that the story wasn’t working because I was attempting to tell the end of the saga without knowing its beginning. But I plowed through, and that is what I encourage every writer to do. It was the only way I was able to overcome this type of obstacle, since giving up was never an option. Yet even though this experience was incredibly frustrating, I do not regret it, because what was written in that novel laid the foundation for nearly every scrap of myth and legend, and even inspired a number of significant events, in Deadmarsh Fey, that I would have known nothing about if I hadn’t written that fourth book first.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany. It’s been ages since I read that book, but I still remember the characters (Ziroonderel the Witch, Alveric the prince and his Elvish love, Lirazel, Orion the hunter of unicorns…), the almost heart-breaking lyricism of the prose and plot, and the ethereal nostalgia for that time in my life which merely thinking about this book makes me feel. The novel is very dreamlike, infused with a sense of otherness and melancholy, and yet there is hope and romance (in its truest sense) in every word. It was one of the very first fantasy novels I read after I’d made the decision to become a writer, and it will always be precious to me.
Finally – and I feel like this question was designed solely for you, and has been waiting for you to answer it in all the months we’ve been doing these interviews – would you be so kind as to dazzle us with what we like to call a ‘shark elevator pitch’? (It’s exactly the same as an elevator pitch, but with sharks.) (Well, one shark. Which, by the way, is currently picking between its rows of teeth to try and dislodge the remains of the last author who stepped onto its elevator.) Ahem. So: why should readers check out your work? A shark elevator pitch of your own book(s) in no more than three sentences – go!
Whether we are aware of it or not, we all have a fundamental longing for “home”, and by that I don’t mean a building, but a deep ache within the heart to find the place where we truly belong. For me, at least when it comes to my writing, “home” has always been in these other worlds I have created—perilous realms infected by a darkness that seems unstoppable…yet also realms of searing beauty and light, peopled by characters who heed the call to lay all on the line for a chance (sometimes less than a chance) to defeat the evil that is threatening to devour everything they love because they have realized that their world, though fallen—and uncannily similar to our own—is worth fighting for. When reading my books, especially Deadmarsh Fey, my wish and hope is that you lose yourself in these worlds, that you let go and journey along with the characters, grow attached to them, become them, even, and see in them a reflection of yourself…and if by doing so you discover what your “home” is, then that is reward enough, for it will mean that I have made the best use of the time that was given to me.
Brilliant, Melika. Thanks so much for joining us today, and best of luck with the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off!
Melika Dannese Lux is the author of Deadmarsh Fey and Corcitura. Find her on social media using the links below.
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