I was at a convention wandering through the dealer’s room, and one of the merchants was selling Russian kitsch—Communist-era pins and trinkets, that sort of thing. And I had read this book about the arts in pre-Communist Russia, and then there was Louisa’s voice in my head talking about how much easier it was to get these things after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Could you tell us about the process of writing it?
I had a draft that was about half of what you see now, and I knew it was not getting there somehow, but I didn’t know where exactly there was. So I shipped the half-written draft off to my writing partner, Alec Austin, and we kicked some ideas back and forth, and suddenly there was this new ending I liked much better.
Louisa’s voice is very distinctive. What advice could you give aspiring writers about finding a character’s voice?
Jo Walton told me writers all get one thing for “free,” and voice seems to be mine. So I might not be the best person to ask on this—usually it comes pretty easily for me. In this case I have been writing a bunch of stuff from the perspective of a young male hockey player—very, very culturally different place than Louisa, resulting in a very, very different voice. I think sometimes a distinctive voice comes from saying, “Let’s try someone a little different.” Different from yourself, different from your other characters, whatever works. I also figure if you can’t say what drives people absolutely crazy about your point-of-view character, you probably haven’t nailed their voice yet.
Louisa’s relationship with her cousins is tempestuous. She notes that, “Cousins are a great trial. Many lucky people have cousins with whom they have very little in common, who are not close to their own age and who did not share childhood holidays with them.” Did you draw from any specific family memories when creating the relationships in the story?
What, are you trying to get me in trouble with my grandma?
Seriously, I’m in kind of a weird family position. My mother has fifty-some first cousins, but she’s an only child and so am I. So on that side of the family she has that many first cousins, and I have zero. We would have these giant family reunions, and all of my second and third cousins had siblings and first cousins they were closer to. So I got to witness pretty much any cousin relationship you could name, but all from the outside as an observer.
I do have two women I refer to as my cousins. They are my parents’ best friends’ daughters, and we grew up doing a lot of the sorts of things cousins do if their families live in the same city. We were always nice to each other, though, so not very much like these characters except that we always have each other’s backs. Kari and I had a lot in common from a pretty young age—she gave me Douglas Adams to read when she was 14 and I was 12—and we both felt very protective of Mary, who is the “baby” of us girls and probably wishes I would remember to stop calling her Marmar, at least in public. (Sorry, Mar.)
What would you trade for a phoenix egg?
I’m really not a collector personality myself, so I’d have to make sure it was the right one, because I wouldn’t do it much. But the only things I make other than stories that people ever describe as magical are things like pumpkin muffins, rye buns, or strawberry cake, so I guess I’d have to go with my strengths there.
What’s next for you?
I write both science fiction and fantasy, but in 2011 it was more fantasy. I’m feeling like doing more short science fiction in 2012. I also think it’s time to start a brand-new novel, but what novel that is may change by the time I get around to it.
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