Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Interview with the Duchess of Fantasy

Alma Alexander, author of the international bestselling novel, Embers of Heaven, poured a cup of tea and sat down to chat with us.

When did you start writing and what inspired you to become a writer? 

As soon as I could hold a crayon, and before that I just made up stories in my head... I don't think anything "inspired" me to become a writer. I think that was something that was written into my genetic code before I was born. It's not what I DO, it's who I AM.

Tell your audience about the most interesting character you've written. Why were you drawn to that character? 

In "Embers of Heaven", which takes place in an alternate-China in the throes of an alternate Cultural Revolution, I wrote a romance between my protagonist and a character who is based on on the historical Mao tse Tung. Making Mao into a character who is not only sympathetic (for otherwise how could my principled heroine fall for him?) but also still true to the impulses which lead his historical avatar into the kinds of actions that he was on record as doing was... challenging. Instead of making him a great and glorious leader I chose to show his path to where he ended up, at the top of his world - following his own dreams and convictions according to the circumstances which had shaped him, making him flesh and blood and not just a palimpsest or a pale imitation or an anti-hero. In some ways - in a LOT of ways - he is absolutely the antithesis to everything that my protagonist, Amais, wants or believes in - but there are things that he believes in just as strongly, and what she falls in love with is that passion of belief. I think that in the end this is one of the most poignant and powerful love stories that I have ever written, and it's in no small part due to the clay I had to work with. I am hardly ever drawn to characters which are wholly black or white - and Iloh, my "Embers of Heaven" character", offered me enough shades of gray for me to build a wonderful world in his shadow.

Do you ever include your life experiences in your novels? If so, which one stands out?

Not often, no - but there was one which I took from my own life, directly, in the pages of "Midnight at Spanish Gardens". The scene where Olivia stands there holding a laboratory rabbit in the palm of her hand and is helplessly unable to make herself inject it with poison so that its effects can be studied - that was a watershed moment in my own science education and career. It was the moment that I understood how mismatched I and a laboratory really were. After that, it was words, for me - words all the way - working as an editor, and as a writer. It was the only thing I could do, the only road I could take. And it took that rabbit to point the way. So he finally made it into one of my stories.

Why are you called the Duchess? 

Because I am one, literally. My father's family was rewarded with a medieval Dukedom back in the 1300s, for some ancestor's valued services in a war taking place at the time. The Dukedom, of course, is long since defunct - but the coat of arms still exists, and I am the lineal descendant of that original fourteenth-century Duke. So, hence, I claimed the "title" and a number of Science Fiction conventions took to this with glee - and I practically get curtseys in hotel corridors from con attendees in the know who really enjoy the game.

Tell us a little known fact about you. 

I am addicted to coffee...? No, everybody knows THAT. Well, how about the fact that I once got to march into a con opening ceremony to the strains of the Darth Vader theme from Star Wars, all decked out as a transgender Doctor Horrible (who found out that his freeze ray had, eh, unexpected side effects...) - with Alexander James Adams, the amazing music-maker, playing Benny, who used to be Penny - oh, it gets complicated from here...

Check out Alma's books  Embers of Heaven and  2012: Midnight at Spanish Gardens on Kindle.  For other formats, check out our books on Smashwords.   2012: Midnight at Spanish Gardens is also available in trade paperback.

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