Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Mona Semerau lives in Stoughton, Wisconsin. She has a few friends, too many books, and is insatiably curious about things she cannot claim to fully understand.
Tell us about the inspirations behind this this story. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?
I had this fantastic mental image of a chase on horseback in a blinding snowstorm. Great. Now I had to justify it, the why and who, what’s the plot? And how am I going to tell it? It took me the better part of eight years, but I’ve managed to scratch that itch, and I think my instincts were true.
Forces is described as “a mildly lyric, less snooty form of elevated prose.” Tell us more about what that means to you.
I wanted a certain creative tension to be evident throughout Thorn’s experience, something that I sensed could not be accomplished through a plain-storytelling approach. Poetry takes it to the next level but it carries its own hazard—particularly when dished out in one big dollop over the course of 350 pages. My solution was to hybridize a literary approach which would allow me to weave easily in and out of narrative and verse, making full use not only of wordcraft, but of spacing to achieve the effect I wanted. The trick was to have fun with it and not take myself too seriously.
The writing style of Forces has a strong atmospheric element, which creates an immersive experience for the reader. How do you approach worldbuilding to create such immersion?
The writing style, what I call poetic narrative for lack of a better word, is meant to carry the tone, the sweep of time implied throughout Thorn’s encounters and her reflections on histories of the past. How do I accomplish this? On the right hemisphere of my brain I maintain a carefully honed sense of balance and brevity. I pay close attention to that. Everything gets written down in pencil on college-ruled paper, with notes on the left margin where I’ve scribbled prompts such as ‘re-word’, ‘a different word’, ‘too blithery’, ‘condense’, etc. This helps a lot. On the other side of my brain sits a cartoon caricature of a literary agent. She wears pointy 1950s glasses and sits on the edge of her desk laughing hysterically at everything I write. I imagine scathingly embarrassing book reviews and to avoid that I cross out all the stupid stuff, the melodrama, clunky humor that’s not funny and especially poetry that’s too “poetie”. I’m allowed to be mildly lyric but she takes out all the snoot from my elevated prose. It creates a powerful dynamic and allows for screaming sparrows and strutting suns shouting ME! in 72-point size.
How do you create your characters? What relationship do you have with them?
My characters were sometimes in the wrong place at first and a few came rather late in the story’s development. Lady Bellypot the dog (or most of one) is the only character based on a real creature. I only saw her once – her owner must have been visiting in town that day – as she imperiled my existence from behind a white picket fence. I credit her with helping me get the story back on track after a hiatus of some 18 months when everything sort of fell apart. The Squire was a convenient foil for introducing the astronomy with its own unique mythology. Most of my characters don’t have proper names. They served a certain purpose and then I moved on.
The most difficult were the riders from the Scorch’dlands. What was their inspiration? They were necessary for creating the initial crisis, but I had to flesh them out somehow. So. Well. Some years ago I was sitting with my cousins in their gazebo when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Some poor creature had died and these god-awful pinworms had all poured out of it and were marching inexplicably in a big flat tear-shaped formation across bare pavement in search of a new host. One worm had gotten shoved to the commanding position at the tip of that teardrop. I had the impression of them acting as one large unit driven by a common goal – a similar observation Thorn had made concerning the Scorch’dlanders. Bleah-h-h! We got the willies and washed them away. But the imagery stuck.
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
I don’t understand the question. Oh I know! I’ll make one up: What inspired you, what, or who kept you going when it looked like the whole project would never see the light of day? The music of Loreena McKennitt, over and over in a constant loop. She kept the flame alive through those empty months of doubt and drought, maintained that constant note which allowed me to get back on track, to bring it, beyond my expectations at the time, to a full and satisfying end.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Other than conquering Microsoft, the hardest part is not distracting myself. Accepting that I might spend weeks on one section and then throw it away. Then suddenly the right turn of a phrase or shuffling of characters and settings brings the whole thing together.
Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?
Probably the imagery of the Sea, Thunderfist’s experience suggestive of wave theory and space travel. Thorn’s reflections on the cosmology of the old way of the Ancients to the new (and more accurate) understanding of the relationship of Sun and Moon and Earth in parallel with the Kingdom. It ties to her identity as a scribe as one who observes and writes it down, the preservation of knowledge and none of it is lost. The Lunar Eclipse as a love story between Moon and Earth. Thorn on the threshold of death and in her delirium she imagines the Traveller and the Ancient together discussing ‘the origins and the essence of the things we cannot see’ – her yearning to understand and fearing she would lose it all. It’s the tension that clues the reader that the story is nearing its end.
How did you decide on the title Forces?
You don’t feel it?
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