As part of the work for her latest book, “The Codex of Desire”, Lauren Alter had the idea of mutual interviewing – interview another author and have them interview her. I’ve tried to come up with some questions that are, I hope, a little bit different from the usual. You can read Laurie’s interview me on her Facebook page.
My first question is the same one everybody asks, though: tell us a little bit about yourself
I’m a 53-year old freelance commercial artist, happily married for 23 years to a fellow artist. We live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, in an apartment which includes a large shared studio space. ENFP, Ravenclaw, Lawful Good alignment, with an abiding love for cats, dinosaurs, and non-fiction history books. I’m deeply involved in local science fiction fandom and thoroughly enjoy attending Keycon, our city’s longest-running SF&F literary convention.
You write under a pseudonym. What was the reasoning behind that decision?
Basically it came down to how Amazon structures its review system. My real last name is Smith, so if anybody with the same last name tried to leave a review on my book, there was a real risk that Amazon would kick the review. Since Smith is such a common last name, I elected to go with one much more rare — and so Lauren Alder was born.
Your business card says “author and illustrator”. Do you think the ability to work in multiple mediums has an impact on the way you write?
Not in a direct way, but it’s handy to be able to switch creative gears and turn my mind from writing to art, and back again, whenever I need a break.
Being a visual artist also allows me to do things like create portraits of characters in my novel, as well as design my own covers. For me, writing is always tied in with strong visuals, and it’s wonderful to be able to translate those into something tangible.
Your new book, “The Codex of Desire” is about a dinosaur society sixty-five million years ago. How did you come upon the idea of using dinosaurs as the main characters and how do you go about world-building for that?
The initial inspiration for “Codex” came from a non-fiction history book called “Ninja: 1000 Years of the Shadow Warrior” by John Man. As I was reading about the Samurai and Ninja cultures, and how they interacted in reality as well as in myth, an idea hit me over the head: “Romeo and Juliet” set in that particular milieu! But I didn’t feel comfortable writing it in that actual historical situation, since their culture is not my culture… and that’s when the second idea hit: “Take it into the EXTREMELY ancient past, and make all the main characters into intelligent feathered theropod dinosaurs!”
That decision allowed me to play with SO many ideas, including matriarchy vs patriarchy, which became a major theme in the novel. The first challenge, however, was to create the dinosaur species which would be featured in the novel, because their psychology arises from their physiology and their essential nature as savagely predatory creatures. That savagery underlies almost everything in “Codex”, whether it’s celebrated by the Tribes of the Inspiration or consciously suppressed by the Culture of the Word. My dinosaur characters move and act differently than human beings would in the same situations, so my great hope is that my readers are able not only to empathize with them, but to enjoy the alien quality of their civilization and their behaviour.
You’ve mentioned in one of your blog posts that your original lead character was supplanted by another. Was that a difficult decision to make?
Originally Tir’at, the brave and dashing captured Warrior of the patriarchal Culture of the Word, was supposed to be the hero (and the male half of the “Romeo and Juliet” pairing). It wasn’t until the first draft was finished and I was pitching hook lines to an instructor in a “Got High Concept?” online seminar that the instructor told me outright: “The slave girl is the protagonist, not the military prisoner.” And that was a real lightning-strike moment too, because as I looked over the MS I realized that the instructor was right: Tir’at was the fulcrum for the plot, the point around which all the action rotated, but the individual who actually kept the plot moving WAS Girn’ash, the female slave who loved him and would do anything to set him free. Tir’at? He was the Damsel in Distress, right down to being trapped in a high tower!
So actually it wasn’t a difficult decision to make at all, because the Writing Machine ™ inside my head made the decision for me. All I had to do was recognize the true state of the narrative and follow that path while I was editing.
Aside from “Codex…”, what other works of yours should I look out for?
I’m currently at work on my second novel, “Where Darkness Falls”. “WDF” follows two secret US government agents as they try to solve the mystery of a series of grisly ritual murders in Chicago in the year 2038. In this universe certain rare human beings manifest supernatural abilities based on their religious beliefs, and these two agents are Manifesters. The problem is that one is a Southern Baptist, the other is a Wiccan, they’re both incredibly bigoted against the other’s religion, and they hate each other on sight. So part of their character arc is how they each learn better — hopefully in time to get to the bottom of the murders and ward off the end of civilization as they know it.
The target publication date for “WDF” is August of 2020, but I’m aiming to get it wrapped up sooner than that. Currently I plan to publish it to Amazon and Smashwords under my pen name of Lauren Alder, so that’s something to look out for — eventually.