Monday, November 2, 2009
J: I understand the idea for Khepera Rising came from an incident on Fish Hoek Main Road where a stranger said to you, "Jesus loves you" and you wondered what if you were the thing she feared most. I have to admit, I heard that story, Nerine, and I was fascinated. Is your protagonist James the thing this lady would fear most? Can you tell us why he needs or craves that reaction?
N: To be quite honest, I had absolutely no idea who or what my protagonist would be up until that moment. I had vague inklings that I wanted to write about minority culture in my stomping ground but had no clear ideas. I knew there would be magic and alternative dream realities involved but no knowledge as to how I'd execute the story. Jamie provided the conflict just by being, well... Jamie.
I found it ironic that this lady stopped me in the street... or tried to, with her preconceived notion that I needed or would welcome her brand of "help". Jamie is a conglomeration of all the terrible stories you'd hear about "those evil satanists". However, he is highly intelligent and does have a great deal of empathy toward living creatures. I'd say he's most closely based on the concept of La Veyan satanist, however, with a more fervent belief in his magical arts in the sense of a ceremonial magician. He wouldn't hurt a living, sentient being but if a human were to cross him, he'd not shrink from gaining revenge. He is completely decadent and, as SA author Sarah Lotz put it, "deliciously morally ambiguous", and thrives on creating a stir wherever he goes.
Of course he is just setting himself up for a fall and that's most of the novel, really, about Jamie putting his life back together and deflating some of his ego. I guess he craves the reaction from other people because of the hatred and the boredom he feels when faced with what he considers their perenially dull lives.
J: From that moment on Main Road to finding your publisher, how long did the process take? What was the most difficult part of your journey as a novelist?
N: The incident took place late in 2006. I spent most of 2007 writing but then I lacked a lot of focus so the novel grew in fits and starts. At that time I was still fooling myself that I should write and sell short fiction, so I was constantly distracted. At the start of 2008 I finished the first draft then spent the next four or so months editing. I had a brief connection with a SA-based literary agent but in the end the two of us didn't see eye to eye, so I started looking overseas. The South African publishing industry still considers genre fiction to be below its notice so I knew well not to waste my time locally. Besides, my target market is mostly the US market, in any case.
The most difficult thing was dealing with rejection. I queried goodness knows how many agents. The dozen or so who requested partials or fulls said thanks but no thanks, with most of the reasons for rejection being that they weren't quite sure how to sell this novel. After this I started querying the small presses and was pleasantly surprised to have an overwhelming YES from Lyrical Press, Inc. Although technically it can be argued that I didn't need a literary agent now that I had a publisher, I still felt it prudent to return to one of the agents who'd initially seemed sympathetic to my cause. The lady in question agreed to representation, so I'm feeling happier for this that I have someone to look over my contracts and offer legal advice. But, ja... the rejection. It was horrid. Luckily I have a thick skin after working in advertising and newspaper publishing for a number of years.
Now the most difficult part of being published is finding the time to edit. I also work as a genre fiction editor, and it's not always easy balancing a demanding day job at the papers with my writing and freelance editing. I burn the candle at both ends at times, which can have a negative impact on my health when things get too busy.
J: You said there are two major themes dear to your heart, could you elaborate a bit on what they are?
N: Plainly put, I'm an iconoclast. I grew up in a highly conservative environment from a religious and cultural sense, so am quite passionate when I see persecution of minority religions and cultures. I tend to cheer for the underdog, be he pagan, Wiccan, heathen, Thelemite or satanist. I have a great love for spiritualities that are off the beaten track and believe there is strength in diversity. People should not be shaped from cookie cutter faiths and I feel it is up to the individual to find out for themselves what they want out of life. Other people mustn't dictate. Having had a highly conservative Afrikaner upbringing during South Africa's apartheid years probably contributed a lot to my current state of being.
As for the other, I always get a bit passionate about the topic of drug use versus drug abuse. I wanted to show a character who was able to transcend his dependency on narcotics through his own efforts without leaning on some organisation as a crutch. People close to me have either succumbed or gotten over their problems with addictive substances. Those who now shine have been able to do so by finding the strength within themselves to overcome their issues. Having people close to you addicted to drugs is not a nice situation. You love them but you also realise that there is very little you can do to help them.
J: What prompted you to start a writers' guild for speculative fiction writers in Cape Town?
N: Frustration, really. I felt as if I was totally alone. The only other genre fiction writers I knew back then were people overseas and yet I yearned to have face-to-face contact and people to commiserate with. I also knew that the local publishers were never going to start taking genre fiction in South Africa seriously unless we started somewhere, working toward improving local fiction as a whole. And hell, when I read about all the conventions overseas I grew rather jealous. I wanted that kind of excitement here in my home town.
Three years down the road I can definitely say our efforts are paying dividends. Two of our members have sold short stories within a month of each other and we've maintained monthly meetings, as well as outings. I've just convened the literary element of the SA Horrorfest, and a number of our members were ready to put their work in the public eye. We've also brought out our first anthology and are busy with our second.
J: Nerine, soon the world will be reading your work, praising and criticizing the story and characters. How does a writer prepare for that?
N: Go into it without expectations, good or bad. I create without lust for result. That way if there is a deafening silence, it doesn't phase me. However, having a thick skin in this industry is critical. Realise that you cannot please all of the people all of the time. While some will love what you do, there will also be those who'd like nothing better than to denigrate what you've created.
J: As a soon-to-be-published author, do you have a marketing plan in the works? Or is your publisher taking care of everything? Were any of their requirements difficult to fulfill?
N: As a author with a small press, I'm well aware that a lot of the marketing will fall on my shoulders. To that effect, I've started building an online presence blogging, as well as maintaining a group on social networking sites such as Facebook. I'll be handling some give-aways once the novel is released but I'm also planning a launch party here in Cape Town. ePublishing is all but unheard of here in South Africa and I'm excited to be at the forefront to spread word of the digital revolution that's currently transforming the publishing industry. Most of the books I read nowadays are onscreen and, although printed books will never fall out of favour, digital publishing is giving many authors an opportunity to put their work out there.
It's my feeling that nowadays authors no longer have an excuse to be hermits. They have to take an active role in promoting their writing, be it book signings, blogging, interviews... Marketing is only limited by one's imagination.
J: Which is more fun and why: writing, revising or marketing?
N: I love outlining and writing. Editing can be a pain due to time constraints. I simply do not have enough time in the day. My magic two hours are my daily commute to and from the Cape Town CBD, and I spend that time busy with my first drafts, all written by hand. Marketing can be fun. I come from a marketing communications background so I'm always full of ideas when it comes to that. Right now I'm relaunching my website. Next month I'm planning my launch party, including belly dancers, divas, live suspensions and wine tasting, if all goes well. I'm surrounded by creative people so there's never a lack of opportunity for a bit of collaboration and mutual promotion of the arts.
J: In your bio it says experienced penguin wrangler. When I was a child, I helped round up chickens. It was dangerous work. Nerine, what the heck is a penguin wrangler?
N: During 2000 there was a terrible oil spill. The Treasure ran aground in Table Bay and more than 17 000 African penguins were directly impacted by this disaster. These were laboriously rounded up and I spent a week working to tube, feed and wash penguins. It was one of the best experiences I've had, seeing how people can work together for a greater cause. And the penguins, yes... little chaps in their tuxedos. No matter how many times the ungrateful wretches bit me and narrowly missed removing vital bits of my person, I worked until late each day to save their lives. And there's quite an art to catching and working with penguins. If ever there were to be another disaster of this scale, I'd book myself off for a week to jump right in again. But, let's hope that's not the case. I feel very strongly about the environment and take a proactive role in doing what I can to lessen my impact.
J: I've yet to meet a writer who isn't plagued with the fear of being discovered a fraud. Have you suffered from that? If not, can you help the rest of us learn how to lighten up? If so, have you discovered a solution?
N: Ah, hell, I sometimes do have my dark teatimes, as I like to call them. Usually this is when I've taken too many physical and emotional knocks from the world, and these things do tend to happen in waves, so it's a case of learning to weather the storm. Thing is, when this happens, I have to remind myself that I write the kind of stories that I like to read. I may not have a masters degree in literature but I pride myself on constantly looking for ways in which I can improve my writing. The trick is to remember WHY it is that I write. If an author is writing because they want acclaim or make loads of money, stop right there.
I write because I have stories to tell and, chances are, if I can find a medium to share them, then other people who like my kind of stories will be entertained and hopefully learn about my world.
My advice: write without lust for result. Write the kind of prose that makes you want to sing or cry. Write what makes you happy, be it fanfiction or epic supernatural thrillers, but overall, just write and be glad for bringing some creativity in a world chiefly filled with consumers.
J: Can you tell us a little about The Dead of Night?
N: The Dead of Night takes up from Khepera Rising, about four months after the climactic events at the end of book one. Although, technically, it's a sequel, I've written it so that it works as a standalone novel. I've tentatively thought up a third and I'd like all these books featuring Jamie to be read in any sequence. The Dead of Night is perhaps darker and more blood-drenched than its predecessor. Jamie has more control over his magic, and he's mastered his demons, emotionally, physically, intellectually and magically, but events take place outside of his sphere of influence that drag him into trouble. It's a race against time for him to solve the savage, ritualistic murders of teenage girls, while trying to track down a demonic entity that threatens to destroy him.
J: Thanks so much for the interview, Nerine. I have a feeling your answers will help a lot of new writers. It's a scary road and sharing your experience has already made it a nicer place, I'm sure. Best of luck with Khepera Rising and all your future endeavours. Please come back when you're touring with The Dead of Night.