Friday, March 25, 2011

Author Interview Heidi Vlach

Today we have another special interview. This time the kind soul willing to answer my random questions is Heidi Vlach, the author of Remedy (a fantasy novel). Usually I have a picture of the author but I forgot to ask for this one. So we'll have to stare at the beautiful cover for her novel instead, which shouldn't be too hard. I seriously wish this was a paperback book just so I could have that a book with that cover, honestly. Okay, on to the interview.

First, could you tell my readers a little about yourself?
I'm a chef-trained waitress. I just love telling people the social background behind the food they're ordering. My hobbies include video games and their fandom, armchair biology study, costume design, paper maché sculpture, and reading a few bites of everything ever.

Writing-wise, I write secondary world fantasy focused on non-human characters. I'm exploring the idea that fantasy can be more than just an allegory for human society. Science fiction accepts alien beings as valid people and viable POV characters, and I think high fantasy can do the same.

Wow. That is quite the variety. That's very cool about the food part as I'm a fan of food. And the approach to high fantasy is one that has caught my attention for sure.
Now for the novel. What is Remedy about, in the shorter description style if possible?
Remedy is set in a magical secondary world, which hasn't been named by its citizens but I call it Aligare. This place has three types of people -- bird-like dragons, insect/mammal combinations, and weasels -- who live and work cooperatively. It's peaceful in the sense that no one declares war on anyone, but being a good person and doing the right thing can still be a challenge.

In the Remedy story, Peregrine, an aging, deaf avian, has come to rely on the weasel hearing assistants he raises like his own children. He decides that he's being selfish and that his current, doting assistant-daughter, Tillian, deserves a life of her own. That struggle -- Peregrine trying to back away from Tillian while Tillian doesn't want him to go -- is the main story arc of Remedy. The problem accelerates when Rose, an inexperienced mage of the insect/mammal race, needs other races' help to save her plague-stricken village. Peregrine needs to fly for supplies and Tillian needs to nurse the ill -- so, they need to live separately if they hope to save Rose's village.

I've read the book and can say it's really good. Loved Tillian in particular though the entire story was one that I enjoyed reading.
Was Remedy your first published novel? Was it the first one you've ever written?
Remedy is my first published novel, and my second complete manuscript. My first novel was a cliched quest story set in a less thoroughly developed version of the Aligare world. Sometimes you need to write a pig's ear just to learn what kinds of purses you can't make it into.

Ah the quest story. That is an interesting way to put it, having to write something not as good to learn first. Very interesting.
Could you tell my readers a little about the path you took towards publication? Which route did you take?
I began by querying literary agents with my first, then second manuscript. After Remedy got about fifty form rejections, I sought out editors to help me figure out why no one was biting. Those editors confirmed that the story structure wasn't horrible or anything -- the issue was that my premise was incompatible with mainstream fantasy norms. One editor basically said that if I wasn't willing to market Remedy as a talking animal book for young people -- which I was not -- then would be very unlikely to find someone willing to take on such an "unmarketable" project. So I did another editing pass on Remedy, to make sure the book's style was what I wanted it to be, and I began planning to self-publish an ebook.

Nowadays, there's a lot of pressure on genre writers to produce a novel that's massively popular within a few weeks of release. This approach disregards all the sleeper hits and niche-makers in publishing history. I think it does literature a disservice to focus on popular, marketable stories at the expense of trying new paths. The ebook market may have its flaws, but it does allow every work a chance to find its audience and spread slowly by word of mouth. I self-published because I want full creative control. I've never been one to sit around waiting, hoping someone else will make my goals happen. I want to see more non-human-focused fantasy for adults, so I'm writing some and I hope some people get enjoyment from it.

I've heard the anti-animal characters for anything but children's stories before and it does cause a hard decision for some writers. I'm glad you chose to keep going and hope that more follow suit because there is room for the characters in the fantasy genre, in my opinion.
How long have you been writing?
I started writing transformative fan fiction as a young teenager, just for fun. Borrowing someone else's scenario and characters was a great way to see what goes into a published work of fiction, and a way to celebrate the stories I enjoy. The process of tinkering with stories led me to build a world of my own. For the past eight years, I've been working on my original works. Mostly Remedy and the rest of the Aligare world, but I have some other partially-formed projects.

I've heard a number of people who started with fanfiction and it can be a good learning medium. You did a wonderful job with your world building, which I am fast learning takes a lot of effort to do right in fantasy.
How many drafts do you normally do per novel?
Oh gosh, I didn't count how many drafts went into my two finished novels. I just kept finding style, story and worldbuilding issues to poke at. I'm going to guess between three and five thorough editing passes, plus lots of extraneous tweaking. I never have a sure idea of what my finished story will be like until it's looking me in the face.

The edits can make the drafts blur together. Interesting that you seem to have a more develop as you go approach. I imagine having a finished product was a bit of a relief in a way.
Would you prefer to write in silence or have music/noise?
I work best in a quiet-ish public place like a coffee shop or the library. Somewhere with a bit of ambient noise and chatter. If that's not an option, I listen to lyric-free music. I like just enough sound that I need to consciously tune it out to focus on the words I'm writing. Complete silence weirds me out when I'm trying to work!

Sounds like a good mix, some noise but not enough to be a distraction, the ambient type. Lyric-less music is a good approach too.
Do you have a project(story) you are working on now, or want to start working on soon?
I'm working on Render, another story of Aligare. This one is about a mountain village facing strangely frequent wolf attacks. Definitely going to have more action and horror than Remedy.

Sounds like it will be another good book. I hope to be able to read that one as well. Thank you for answering all my questions and letting me read Remedy.
Where can my wonderful followers find you online?
Remedy can be found on Smashwords and Amazon. My website has some supplemental information on the Aligare world, for those who read Remedy and would like a companion guide to this non-human place. Or if you just want an objective explanation of what the non-human races look like.

As for me personally? I post every few days on my Blogger and mirror the content to Dreamwidth. I'm also on Facebook and Twitter, and you might see me drifting around Goodreads, LibraryThing and the Absolute Write boards. I invite your wonderful readers to drop by and say hi sometime!


Donna Hole said...

Good interview.

I'm not sure about the animals as society for adults, but . .

I've read several fantasy novels that had alien races - many some form of mythical animal or hybrid - as the focus and I didn't mind reading them. Jack Chalker made some interesting worlds in this way (Masks of the Martyrs series).

I'd give the concept a try.


L'Aussie said...

Very cool interview Dawn. Thank you. I enjoyed learning about Heidi and her background/novel.


Dawn Embers said...

Thanks Donna and Denise. I like doing interviews and have two others to post in the near future. :-)

Margo Berendsen said...

Yay for talking animals outside of MG! I've run into that same problem too and it's so frustrating. I'm glad you decided to self-publish and adding this book to my TBR list. Loved how you enjoy telling people more about the food they are ordering, too. That's one of my fav parts of going to good restaurants!

N. R. Williams said...

Good interview. I agree about the publishing world. They have been dictating what readers want for so long that it has blinded them to a certain extent. While I read about your characters I couldn't help but think of Narnia. While Narnia had human protagonist, it had wonderful characters in its fury animal friends.
N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium.

Dawn Embers said...

Thanks Margo and N.R. Williams for commenting on the interview. I'm sure Heidi also appreciates the comments about her book.

Heidi C. Vlach said...

I certainly do appreciate the comments! Thanks, Margo and N.R. Williams.