It’s been a while since I last posted any updates, but today, I am happy to share with you a new and very in-depth (possibly my most in-depth one to date) interview. Many thanks to author Sonya M. Black for providing me with such insightful questions. I hope you enjoy reading not only my thoughts on writing and other subjects, but also learning more about a few special books that have impacted my life in very different ways. Maybe you’ll be inspired to invite them into your lives and let them work their magic on you, as well.
- A dragon lands in front of your Main Character, what would they do?
It just so happens that my main character in Deadmarsh Fey, Roger Knightley, is obsessed with dragons, and has been since he was practically out of the womb, cutting his teeth on his mother’s fanciful stories about them, blazing through the Mabinogion by the time he was six, and venturing onward to further fill his head with even more fantastic legends, his favorite being the one about Merlin and Vortigern and the fortress that had been toppled again and again by the red and white dragons battling in a pool beneath its foundations.
Given all of that, if a flesh and blood dragon landed in front of him, Roger wouldn’t scream or scarper away in fright, but would rather shriek in delight and run forward to hug one of the dragon’s foreclaws, then try to convince the beast to fly him back to Wraxhall, Roger’s boarding school, to equalize the playing field, as it were, by teaching his headmaster a lesson—turning Master Crisp into Master Ash…literally. But once Roger came to his senses, he would do all in his power to enlist the dragon as an ally against the Dark Wreaker of Everl’aria, and the curse this fell being has laid upon Roger’s family. You’ll have to read Deadmarsh Fey to find out if any of this really does happen in the book, or if I’m just letting my imagination rocket upward like a dragon soaring through the night sky, its black wings blotting out the light of the moon.
- What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
It’s not the main focus of my upcoming trip to England, but when I’m there, we’ll be spending a day in Oxford, walking in the footsteps of two authors who have had a significant impact not only on my writing, but upon my life, as well—J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. I expect to be awed the entire time I’m there, and quite emotional, too. Oh, and a visit to the Eagle and Child is also on the agenda! 6,900 pictures of the snug where the Inklings used to meet will be taken, so as not to miss a single angle, of course. I can’t wait!
- What is the first book that made you cry?
I’m sure other books got to me before this one did, but the first book I can remember which made me cry was The Turn of the Screw—and that was because it horrified me, my tears bursting forth at the very end when Miles screams, “Peter Quint, you devil!” I didn’t appreciate the ambiguity and brilliance of that line till many years later, so as a child of eight, my reaction was sheer terror. And yet I loved that little novel! I even owned a Classic comic book type edition of it that I read so often the spine broke. It’s my favorite “ghost” story of all time, and a masterful psychological study that I do not think any film adaptation has done justice to yet, although The Innocents comes close to capturing the unsettling “otherness” of Miles and Flora, and the paranoia (or does she have just cause to fear?) of the Governess.
But the first book that truly touched something deep within my heart and made me not only cry, but bawl, was David Copperfield, which I read at the age of twelve. It didn’t matter that one hundred and forty years separated me from David’s world. I identified with him, was outraged by every injustice he suffered—especially the betrayal of those he’d considered close friends—rejoiced with him when he succeeded, and felt like I was living his life alongside him as I devoured the pages of that book. Till this day, I find myself smiling when I remember Aunt Betsy screeching, “Donkeeees!” or how Mr. Micawber was always sure something would turn up. But don’t get me started on Uriah Heep. I have no fond memories of him!
Looking back, I see how the cruelty David endured at the hands of Mr. Murdstone stayed with me and inspired some of Master Coffyn’s qualities in Deadmarsh Fey, especially his penchant for harsh and often violent discipline against children. And now that I think of it, that fey quality of Miles and Flora so hauntingly delineated in The Turn of the Screw found its way into Deadmarsh, too, coloring certain aspects of Lockie’s character, so even though both books made me cry for very different reasons, they both impacted my writing in their own unique ways.
- Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
No, never. I’ve always wanted to be known as the author of my novels, not because I have a thirst for fame—I prefer the focus to be on my stories, not me—but because I worked hard on them. The funny thing is, though, that many readers have thought Melika Dannese Lux is a pseudonym, but I can assure you that’s exactly the name printed on my birth certificate.
- Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I think what readers want is originality. We can all be inspired by the fantasy greats, of course, and I freely admit that Tolkien and Lewis are my literary “fathers,” but to be derivative to the point of copying them is not something I’ve ever wanted to do. I’m a little fanatical when it comes to being original, so much so that when I created the name of my main villain and Otherworld in Deadmarsh Fey, I typed both into Google and Amazon to make certain they hadn’t been used before! I understand that, according to conventional wisdom, you should compare your works to those of other fantasy authors to hook readers, or even get an agent. But that’s the problem with conventional wisdom—it’s conventional, stultifying, and only interested in preserving the status quo, leaving no room for the unexpected, and very dismissive of that which it does not understand or cannot fit into a neatly designed mold. Why can’t a fantasy book stand on its own without having to be compared to anything that’s come before? Isn’t that what people really want, to read something unlike anything they’ve ever read? To get lost in a world they can discover and explore for themselves, make their home in, without being encumbered by any preconceived notions? That would be a wondrous thing, I think, and much more gratifying than reading yet another Game of Thrones clone.
- How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
The philosopher Nicholas Malebranche once said, “Attentiveness is the natural prayer of the soul.” Laziness of mind is bad enough, but having an unengaged soul makes attentiveness, and really anything else, impossible. This is why I don’t believe asking my readers to fully invest themselves—mind, heart, and soul—into Deadmarsh Fey is being unduly demanding, since I invested my entire being into writing this book. As the author, I see myself as the facilitator, and it is my job, through my storyweaving, to remind my readers that it is incumbent upon them to take care of themselves. I won’t spoon feed you, neither will I string you along, but you should know at the outset that I will not be your Virgil, guiding you through the darkling night. I want my readers to discover things for themselves in this world I have offered to them, a world in which they can lose themselves entirely—a world it is my greatest hope they will make their own. And to achieve this, attentiveness—concentration—is a must, not because Deadmarsh Fey is some labyrinth you need Ariadne’s Thread to find your way out of, but because giving not only my book, but any book, a cursory reading shows not only a lack of respect for the author, but for the reader’s own self, as well. How can you be moved, touched, inspired, if your only objective is to race through a book to finish it as fast as you can? What chance is there for you to experience wonder if you don’t let the story absorb you, if you cut yourself off from allowing the tale to strike a chord in your soul and make your spirit take flight? The opportunity to connect with something beyond you has been neglected, the moment for discovery, expanding your imagination, and knowing yourself deeper, lost when your overriding ambition is how many pages you can read in a day to reach a quota for the year, or some other such arbitrary marker that robs you of the chance to be seized by wonder. It makes the act of reading no act at all, but a passive disengagement that seems completely pointless—and dreadfully hollow.
With every book I have written, but never more so than with Deadmarsh Fey, my goal has been that my readers become active participants in the experience. If this happens, I believe they will feel as if they are sharing in the recreation of the novel and will be able to capture the essence, the atmosphere, in which the work was first written. By becoming a part of the story, they are truly making it into something new and theirs, which is what I want most of all. I want them to lose themselves in a tale that seems fantastical at first, but the deeper they read, the more engaged they become, they realize that the truths in this book mirror the truths in their own lives, that these characters are not so unlike them, and that they, the readers, will miss these kindred souls after the final page is turned. When total immersion occurs, my readers will see Roger and the other characters not as I do, no longer as I’ve described them, but through their own eyes, the images I’ve created meeting the images my words have birthed in their minds, catching fire, and taking flight, burning like a phoenix across their imaginations and hopefully inspiring them to create unexplored worlds of their own, or at least to never be the same after reading this book because it has touched them in some deep and meaningful way and possibly revealed to them their true “home.” That is my wish for everyone who reads Deadmarsh Fey—that they will be open to receiving what the book has in mind for them, and be changed for the better once their journey with my characters comes to an end.
- Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
When you invent something out of nothing, you are, in a sense, sharing in the act of creation. I’m not trying to be blasphemous or presumptuous by saying that, but I truly feel, and have done so for many years, that writing is as close as I come to touching the divine, to brushing up against the world that shimmers just beyond our own. My beloved says that all true art is a spiritual practice, and I agree with him wholeheartedly, as I do with his christening my work dream-sagas, for that is where my original inspiration for Dwellers of Darkness, Children of Light came from—in the chaos of a dream that quite frankly was almost a nightmare, a vision of two young girls, sisters, cowering at the end of a corridor in a small cottage on an fog-encircled island, flattening themselves against the wall and scarcely breathing for fear any sound would alert the gargantuan demonic bear snuffling down the hallway, growing ever nearer, to their presence—the bear that was hungering for their blood.
In many ways, I also view writing as a prayer, a reaching up toward my higher self, my angel, if you will, the self I am meant to be but have been separated from here in my exile upon this earth. It’s a constant striving to make sense out of the thoughts in my head, the inspirations, the “why” of life, and to weave them into a tapestry of light and shadow, of good and evil and the grey areas in between where heroes may doubt their valor but choose to fight on nonetheless, often against seemingly insurmountable odds, because they are dedicated to saving that which they hold dear, their world, the people they love and are willing to lay down their lives to defend. That call to fight for something greater than yourself is also very spiritual at its core, and was a vital thread I wove into the fabric of Deadmarsh Fey in ways I had never done with any other book I had written before. In this novel, in this Otherworld, I feel as though I truly am writing what I dream, both literally and in a deeper sense. I have now found my “home,” at least where writing is concerned, the place where I have finally been able to fulfill the maxim that changed my life many years ago: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Sixteen years old, was I, when Gandalf’s wisdom pierced my heart and set me on this trajectory. The journey has been hard, frustrating, and often incredibly lonely, but it has brought me joy, too, never more so than now, and I would not trade the experience for anything in the world, nor, if given the chance to go back and choose differently, would I diverge from this path that was presented to me. I believe in my soul that despite all the obstacles, it was the path I was destined to take…and how things were always meant to be.
I also think that there is something intensely, almost ecstatically, spiritual about being seized by a story, which happened to me when writing Deadmarsh Fey. From a certain point onward, I was no longer in control of this book. My characters quickly and not too subtly disabused me of the notion that I knew what was best, and since I really had no choice in the matter, I let them take over, and Deadmarsh Fey became a much better tale because I got out of my own way. And that is something I would encourage every writer to do, whether you believe our craft is a spiritual practice or not…let your ego go. It is your worst enemy, will shut you down, choke your creativity. You must diminish for inspiration to increase, and only when you do this will your story have the potential to take wing, blaze across the heavens, and transform into something unique and rapturous. Something you and you alone were born to write.
- Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Yes, I do read them. No author likes to receive bad reviews, and at one time, they had a powerfully negative effect on me, but as I’ve gotten older, and grown as a writer, they don’t influence me anymore. I know the value of my work, and nobody’s negative opinion is going to make me doubt it or love it any less, especially people who abandon my book after only reading a fraction of it. Additionally, if somebody is just spewing vitriol, I don’t take it to heart. And if they completely miss the point of the book, I don’t internalize that, either.
I do appreciate good reviews, of course, especially when the reader invests him- or herself into the world I have created—living through my characters, even becoming them for the short while they are in their company—and therefore is able to truly comprehend what I am trying to say instead of simply glossing over details that were not included as filler, words that weren’t written to pad the pages, just to get things over with for whatever reason, as I mentioned above. It’s a very rewarding feeling when a reader “gets” my work, as happened recently with the wonderful Dianne Bylo at Tome Tender. Her review has become my favorite, and the best, of any of my books thus far, not only because it was erudite and well-written, but also because it revealed that Dianne had let herself be seized by Deadmarsh Fey and thereby connected with it in a profound way, which is what I hope the experience will be for everyone who reads this book.
- Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
I do, but when it came to Deadmarsh Fey, everything that I hid within its pages was built up and eventually revealed in a rather shocking manner a few chapters from the end of the novel. Even at the eleventh hour—and by that I mean some of the very last scenes of the book—I was still unraveling secrets I had woven throughout the story from the beginning. Nearly all of them found resolution in Deadmarsh Fey, though I did leave a few open ended enough to be explored further in the three successive novels in Dwellers of Darkness, Children of Light. Each one of these secrets, every arc that was created in Deadmarsh Fey to be spooled out into the other books, however, did have a suitable ending when its furtherance of the plot in this tale had served its purpose. This was a conscious choice, because I despise loose ends, and even though I think that in some cases it is fine to be ambiguous—as with The Turn of the Screw—I believe that ambiguity for its own sake, or as an attempt to be “edgy,” ruins the integrity of a story.
In the sequel to Deadmarsh Fey, which I’m working on now, there is a sort of inside joke for most of the novel, but it is revealed at precisely the moment when it counts most and is quite earthshattering. And yet…when readers get to that point, I have a sense they will most likely feel that if they’d just thought about it a bit more, they would have been able to solve this riddle fairly early on. I’m hoping the reaction will include a fist to the forehead and a dramatic exclamation of, “Good gad! How could I have been so blind?!” I’m incredibly eager to interweave this plot point throughout the novel—palming the ace where I can, scattering false clues, then finally lowering the boom and blowing the lid off this secret when the time is right. I confess to taking a little enjoyment in being tricksy like this when crafting my books. All right, it’s more than a little. It’s a LOT! But it makes things tremendously exciting for me, and I hope this excitement will transfer to everyone who reads my novels, this one especially.
- What is your favorite childhood book?
The Ivy Cottage by E. J. Taylor. Even though it was very short, and I first read it at the age of four, I still remember the feeling of warmth with which this book enveloped me—as cozy as a sheltering blanket, as soothing as a mug of hot chocolate enjoyed by a roaring fire. The illustrations were entrancing, and I was completely captivated by the idea of living in a cottage in the woods, or one just on the borders of it. After all these years, this is still my dream.