Liz Patterson, who writes over at the lovely blog Awake, recently published her fantasy novel The Mark of the Star. I bought a copy and thoroughly enjoyed devouring it (you can read a review of the book itself over at The Penslayer), and I was delighted when Liz agreed to do an interview here at Scribbles. For those of you who have somehow not stumbled upon Liz's blog or her book, here is the plot summary from the back cover:
What can you do when an entire country hovers on the brink of collapse and your courage is all that can save it? What can you do when your dearest friend makes the wrong choices and your love is not enough to protect him? What can you do when your blessing turns out to be a curse? When Arvis is suddenly faced with these questions, her search for answers leads her on a journey across the world. Hunted by an elusive enemy and brought low by betrayal, Arvis is forced to rise to the challenge and accept that she was set apart by the mark of the star for a reason.
I don't know about you, but that (and the beautiful cover) caught my interest - and the rest of the novel lives up to it. I am eagerly awaiting Liz's next story. And now, on to the questions.
1. First things first. Can you give something about yourself? Personality, favorite pastimes, ideal weather, tea or coffee, favorite pair of socks?
Well, I'm a writer, so that means that I have a inordinate love of words, I tend to sit in coffee shops by myself and people watch, all the librarians know me by name because I check out so many books, and I'm generally the quiet, nerdy one who doesn't say much until you get her talking about books; then she won't be quiet.
I wish I had more pastimes. I don't tend to have any. Instead of pastimes I have passions, which are so much more exhausting. I have a passion for music and I bang away at my poor piano quite frequently. I have a passion for philosophy, which is expressed in my avid love for competitive debate and my intention to major in Philosophy in college and become a teacher of it. And I don't know if I have a favorite pair of socks, but I do have a favorite pair of shoes: my tall black boots which I wear to death because 1.) they are comfy 2.) they are black and I love the color black and 3.) I like to indulge in the irrational fancy that they look like Robin Hood's boots and anything Robin-Hood-ish is the epitome of awesomeness.
2. When did you first begin writing?
Pretty much since the first grade, where I wrote a tragic poem in which every character died. But I really didn't launch into fiction writing until I was 10, when I started writing a series of stories about Arvis (who is the now the MC of Mark of the Star), except back then she was an elf from Lothlorian who drifted in and out of the story of The Lord of the Rings, sometimes off on her own adventures, sometimes joining up with the Fellowship... It really was a way to escape life and enter into a story that I loved.
3. What inspired The Mark of the Star?
Each character has a person who is their inspiration and each place in the world does as well, but overall the inspiration for the whole idea of the Mark of the Star was inspired by a dear friend of mine, Susanna, who originally was going to co-author with me, but became too busy to write. She came up with many of the original ideas, including Arvis's star-mark, and though the story is mainly mine, it was the excitement and fun of her friendship that really inspired the adventures of Arvis and Co. And it was Susanna who encouraged me to write in the first place - she was the first person (and only person for several years) who genuinely believed that I could write a novel.
4. Some novels flow easily, others are like molasses running uphill in January. Which would you say The Mark of the Star was?
Haha! Molasses running uphill in January? How did you know? The current copy of the Mark of the Star that you can buy happens to be the seventh draft of the story. Every few chapters, Writer's Block would bound up and harry me for a while... I thank God that Arvis was so supremely stubborn that she wouldn't let me give up, and also that my stiff-necked pride wouldn't allow me to bail on this project once I had told everyone that I was going to write a novel...
5. I know that Arvis, the main character of The Mark of the Star, has been in your mind a long time. Is she your favorite character in the novel?
I'm afraid Arvis is a little too much like me to be my favorite character. Arvis is, of course, ten times better and braver of a person than I am, but we share many of the same flaws and characteristics. So my favorite character is without a doubt Jadev! Several people have remarked that they love Jadev and I think part of the reason is that when I wrote Jadev, I poured out my heart into his character. I love everything about Jadev, from his silly habit of running his fingers through his hair to his longing to prove himself and his sometimes volatile moods. Jadev embodies almost all the characteristics I love most in people and I had an absolute blast writing him.
6. Politics form the background to the plot of your novel. When and how did you first become interested in that?
When I was 15 back in 2008 and the presidential election season was gripping the country in its excitement and suspense, I discovered, quite shockingly, that this strange and generally-abhorred thing called politics was something I found extraordinarily intriguing. I declared, amidst much controversy, that I wanted to grow up to be a politician. I think the reason I love politics is because it is human nature displayed. Leadership has a way of bringing out the best, and the worst, in people and I love seeing that. Also, political philosophy is so fascinating! If one can be a novelist, a teacher, a wife, a mother, and a politician in the same lifetime, I certainly intend to!
7. Who is your favorite or most inspiring writer?
Wow. This question floors me. Can I cheat and choose two or three? My first answer would be undoubtedly C.S. Lewis. Though it was Tolkien's story of The Lord of the Rings that first inspired my imagination, it was the writings of Lewis that taught me how to write and think and inspired my love of words. In particular reference to The Mark of the Star I think Stephen Lawhead's Pendragon Cycle was very influential. His book Taliesin has many similar characters and elements in it and I learned a lot about writing from Lawhead's creative style. But one of my favorite authors and the writer whose work truly empowered me to finish Mark of the Star when I was about to genuinely give up would be Ara, who used to blog over at Shilah. I read the manuscript of her novel Riven and it changed my life. When I was about to quit writing, her story encouraged me to keep on. I owe the fact that my novel is finished to Ara and Riven. [Ara also designed The Mark of the Star's gorgeous cover.]
8. This is probably a difficult question, but what do you think your favorite part of the plotting process is? World-building, character-sketching, outlining?
Hmmm. Considering that I never outlined the story and although I tried to character sketch, the characters always ended up being different than I intended, I will have to go with world-building. My friend Susanna and I created the world of Lithan'galow together and all the summer afternoons down by the lake and long winter evenings curled up with hot chocolate that we spent yakking away about Lithan'galow, drawing maps, and coming up with history... those are priceless memories and were definitely a ton of fun. I think our boundlessly imaginative Creator placed in all of us a deeply-rooted longing to create. Coming up with an entire world where your imagination can run wild and play with the very laws of physics and nature... it fulfills that longing and sparks a unique and special sort of joy in your heart.
9. What kind of scene do you find easiest to write: tragedy, comedy, or drama? Do you find writing dialogue or writing description/narrative to be easier?
Well, this has changed over the years. At first, dialogue was the bane of my existence and I couldn't write anything but soap-opera drama. Now as I've learned a bit more about writing and gotten more comfortable with it, I find dialogue to be my favorite. I love to write long conversations between my characters that never end up in the story but just help them bond and help me bond with them. Speech is how we express ourselves and writing a character's dialogue is like opening a window into their mind and their heart. As for type of scene, I love comedy but can't write it to save my life. So the easiest would definitely be tragedy - well, not tragedy so much as a scene of intense moral dilemma or conflicting emotions.
10. Is fantasy your genre of choice, or do you see yourself trying others in the future?
Since I'm a little too lazy to ever be completely bound by the laws of nature, I'll probably always have fantasy/sci-fi elements in my stories, but I can't see myself writing epic fantasy for a very long time, if ever again. Fantasy is definitely my favorite genre of book to read, but for writing, I've been yearning lately to get into something more realistic - I want to write a novel set in present-times and that stretches my limits as a writer. Perhaps a thriller or mystery.
11. What are you working on now?
I was working on a story called This World (a weird sort of dystopian sci-fi drama story that involves a good deal of politics and philosophy). But I've realized that I will not have time to finish the story (since I'm going back over and redoing the beginning) before I leave at the end of September for a six-month-long mission trip to South America. So in these next few weeks before I leave, I'm not really working on anything. Everything is put on hold until I return to the US in March. When I get back, though, I may write a sequel to The Mark of the Star, or I may be inspired to write an entirely different story. We'll see what life throws my way...
Thank you for listening and thank you muchly, kind Abigail, for letting me monologue on Scribbles and Ink Stains!
I enjoyed getting to interview you, Liz! Thanks so much for sharing about yourself and Mark of the Star.
The Mark of the Star will be available for purchase on Amazon in three or four weeks, and is now available on Lulu.com. For more information about Liz's writing, or just to read some highly enjoyable posts on anything from music to philosophy, head over to her blog Awake, pull up a chair, brew a cup of tea, and stay for a while. I assure you, you won't be disappointed.