Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Interview with Melissa Crandall

G'day lords and ladies! Today, Melissa Crandall, author of numerous works including the award-winning short story, "Darling Wendy," has stopped by to talk about her experiences with writing her latest novel, Weathercock.

What was your inspiration for writing Weathercock?

It was the random confluence of two separate things -- the playing of Jethro Tull's song "Weathercock" on the car radio as I drove past a billboard with some liquor ad that showed (if I remember correctly) some half-clad, big-boobed, red-haired hottie chick riding a....polar bear? Can that be right? Anyway, that's what I recall. The song was at the part where there's this sort of martial beat and the two jived in my head and gave me the germ of an idea that bears absolutely NO resemblance to how Weathercock eventually turned out. (Thank God.)

Weathercock takes place in a completely female-dominated society, which is very unusual for

fantasy books. Was it strange writing female characters who acted like men and took on masculine roles/jobs? Was it strange writing men who were thought of as "frail?"

When I began Weathercock, it was a very traditional fantasy. Rai and Banya were men and Kinner was a girl. I got about two or three chapters into it and the story dive-bombed nose first into the dirt and lay there whimpering and rolling its eyes at me. I shot it in the head, buried the corpse where no one will ever find it, and changed the gender on everyone. From that point, the story took off.

Writing the female characters with what we consider male characteristics wasn't difficult because those are only male characteristics based upon OUR society. In Weathercock's world, that behavior is perfectly normal. Most of the woman I know and like best are a bit on the rough-and-tumble, irreverent side, so it was easy to write the women in the story. Kinner and the other men were a bit more difficult as I had to keep reminding myself how he has been raised -- to be quiet and subservient and weak. I might write him doing something and then think "Oh, wait, he wouldn't do that." After awhile, though, it became second nature. I like to think that his personal growth in the course of the book seems very natural.

Kinner, Rai, and Banya are three entirely different people with their own strengths, attitudes, and weaknesses. Even though they made a good team, were you ever afraid that they wouldn't cooperate when you were working on a scene?

I never thought about it consciously and -- lucky for me -- it never happened. Kinner (as is his way) stayed pretty quiet throughout. Rai and Banya were fairly verbal in the back of my head, with Banya saying "Do what you have to do," and Rai countering with something rude.

Weathercock takes place in a medi

eval-based fantasy world (or at least, I like to think so). Is there something specific you enjoy writing about the time period?

I'm not sure why I'm drawn to that period. Could be the false romance we tend to imbue it with, when it really wasn't that way at all. (I've heard women say, "Oh, I'd love to have lived back then!" Really? With all the pestilence and war and no sanitary napkins? No thanks.) I knew I wanted swords and not a lot of technology and it sort of grew from that all on its own. In fact, I had a few people badgering me as to "when" the story took place and I was really resistant to nailing it down to a specific era. In my head, it takes place whenever it needs to.

Would you ever want to try your hand at blacksmithing, and if you do, what would you


What a totally cool question! I would LOVE to try my hand at blacksmithing. I'd probably try something small first -- maybe a plant hanger or a lucky horseshoe? I once worked at a place that had horses and I loved watching the farrier. In Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" series he talks about a secret word that blacksmiths use to control horses so they can shoe them. I believe that's true.

Why did you choose a rooster to symbolize the legend?
Actually, because of the Jethro Tull song. (And it's the reason I dedicated the book to Ian Anderson.) It worked out well because it's such a masculine image and I liked the idea of a weathercock pointing the way to better days (as it says in the song).

How was writing Weathercock different than any other project you've worked on in the past?

It was more time consuming and, in its way, harder to write. I lost count of the number of drafts I did of this story. Six? Seven? It was worth it in the end, but there were times when I got mighty tired of those people. ("You're not the only one, lady!" sez Rai.)

Weathercock has quite a bit of salty language in it. How did you come up with some of the character's phrases and insults?

As a writer, I love words and language, so I always have an ear out (as it were) for the unusual. I collect dictionaries from other languages so I can use them when I'm hunting for names for a story. Some of the phrases in the book I've overheard or they sprang from conversations with friends. Others came courtesy of my husband's days in the Navy. I pilfered quite a bit of "salty language" from him, much to his consternation.

I tried very hard, though, to not use the insults in a gratuitous manner. Many of the women you meet in the story are soldiers -- they have that mentality, that culture and, to a degree, that rawness. But they also have that loyalty.

Was the legend of the Weathercock inspired by a real legend?

Not with any awareness on my part. He just erupted full-blown from my head (not unlike Athena from the brow of Zeus, although in no way am I equating myself with a Greek God).

What w
as your favorite part of the book to write?

The end! Hah! (Well, there is some truth to that.) I don't know that I had one favorite part. I really had so much fun with so many aspects of the book -- Carraidland, the sealfolk, Banya and Rai. Hard to choose.

Least favorite part?

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!! The hardest part for me to write was undoubtedly Banya's death. I vacillated on that for a long time. I kept trying to find a way around it, because I didn't want to do it. It was Banya herself who talked me into it. "Look," she said. "Rai won't get the emotional growth she needs if I'm around picking up her shit all the time." And she was right.

Did you do any research in order to help create the world of Weathercock? (For example, did you have to research horses or sword fighting techniques)

Research is a wonderful thing and I recommend it to every writer. Don't stint. Don't try to take the easy way out thinking no one will notice, because SOMEONE will and that someone will know you're full of tripe and they won't recommend the book to other readers. Research takes time but it's worth doing. So, yes, I did research. Some of the horse stuff I already knew (although I found the term 'grulla' online and loved it so much that I had to use it). I researched how swords are made and used and carried and wielded, yeah. I've yet to wield one myself, but if I could do that (preferably without an audience so there's no one to laugh when I lop off an ear), I'd love to give it a try.

How long have you been writing, and how long did it take you finish this book?

I've been writing since I was five or six years old. I've been writing professionally since 1992. The original version of Weathercock took me about eight months to a year to write. But, as I said earlier, it's gone through several rewrites.

Do you have a
favorite fantasy novel or series?

Let's see....in series, I'd say Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" (I am particularly enamored of Granny Weatherwax, Sam Vimes, and Death); Susan Cooper's "The Dark is Rising;" Barbara Hambly's "Sun Wolf and Starhawk" books. In stand-alone books, probably my all-time favorite is J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan." I've also read Walter Wangerin's "Book of the Dun Cow" a million times and never get tired of it.

Tell us a bit about your writing process. Do you have a specific time that you write? A specific place? A drink that you drink?

I am undoubtedly a morning writer. I do my best stuff early in the day, and try to get to the computer between 5 and 7 in the morning, work for 3-4 hours, take a break, and do the business end of the writing gig in the afternoon. Although I can write just about anywhere, I like having a specific place. Right now, that's my office at home. The cats come in and keep me company and it's quite pleasant. I certainly don't drink alcohol while I work (or nothing would get done). I'm a huge fan of really good black tea (Barry's, P.G. Tips) and have that in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon. I drink a lot of water. No soda. Occasionally, I'll reward myself with a glass of wine or a beer at the end of the day.

If you could go back and change anything about Weathercock, what would you change?

Other than a turn of phrase here and there, I don't think I'd change anything. I'm pretty happy with that story, which is why I refused to accept the rejections I was receiving from the standard publishing route and chose to self-publish. I believe in this story. I believe in the characters and what they have to say. Now their story is told and it's time to move on.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a YA/Adult crossover fantasy novel called "Call of Blood," about a pair of twins separated nine months after birth. I also have a slew of short stories to work on. Percolating in the back of my mind is a pirate novel ("A Woman Scorned") and a possible sequel to Weathercock ("Cockscomb").

At its heart, Weathercock is a book about oppression and equality. Is there a specific message or lesson you want your readers to take away from your book, especially about gender?

I see the heart of Weathercock as being about the choices we make. Do we stick with the old regime or try something new? I'm not sure I wrote the story with a particular 'lesson' in mind. I prefer each individual reader takes from the story what works best for them. But if they take anything, I would like it to be Holan's words: There are always choices. There are people in the world who would like to steal your choices or make you think you don't have any or make you afraid of possibilities or of trying to achieve what you really want in life. There are people who want you to follow THEIR route through life, rather than your own. I dealt with a lot of that as a child and it look me a long, long time to work to the other side of it. (Sometimes I still am.) There is much to be gained in being open-minded, in trying a particular route and, if it doesn't work, trying something else. Of working (and it is work) to find your place in the world where you can be yourself. It's hard to be brave sometimes, but it's worth it. Some of the best moments in my life have been when I faced up to a fear and walked through it. (Spitting in its eye on the way past doesn't hurt either!)


What awesome answers! Melissa, you are definitely one funny and talented lady. Thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to chat with me (and by association, the rest of the world) here on Oktopus Ink.

For those of you interested in Melissa's work, you can check out my review of Weathercock HERE, and visit her webpage HERE. I highly recommend it!